Copyright talks to the team behind Bike Back, a cycle scheme in Bristol that aims to bridge the gap between the city’s free and incarcerated populations

A tipsy tumble from the Golden Lion on Gloucester road is a stark victorian building surrounded by barbed wire. This is HM Prison Bristol. It has a maximum capacity of 614 and holds men who have been convicted of crimes or are serving time on remand. A report published by a prison watchdog in late 2015 concluded that 72 per cent of the men incarcerated in Horfield prison and serving terms of less than 12 months would re-offend. The prison does focus on inmate rehabilitation, but the system here and on a wider scale obviously has
its flaws. Enter Life Cycle UK.

The saying goes that one good turn deserves another, which make sense. But what happens when someone disrupts this balance? The How to Stop Prisoners From Re-offending conundrum is ongoing, but the answer is still very much obscured. Progress is being made though. Bike Back aims to help break the re-offending cycle. Poppy Brett, Chief Executive of Life Cycle (the charity behind the BikeBack scheme) explains what they do, ‘Bike Back is essentially a bike refurbishment scheme,’ she says. ‘We take donations of unwanted bikes from the public to our training workshop at HM Prison Bristol and teach prisoners the skills they need to refurbish them.

‘Once they fix the bikes we give them a thorough safety check and then we sell them back to members of the public to encourage more people – especially those on low incomes – to get cycling.’

The positive effects of Bike Back work on a number of levels – or overlapping circles, like a lovely Venn diagram of proactive social change. As Poppy says, ‘The beauty of the project is in the sum of its parts.’ The ‘parts’ being the prisoners, the customers with access to low-cost bikes and the environment, less bikes in landfill and, hopefully, less cars on the road.

So how does the system work? The lowest priced bikes are reserved for those who have been referred by other third sector voluntary organisations like Bristol Drugs Project, Bristol Mind, Second Step and St Mungo’s. These bikes cost just £20 and, over the last year, roughly a third of all refurbished bikes from Bike Back were redistributed this way.

Then there are other bikes that are reserved for people who have declared themselves on low incomes. All the rest are made available for general sale at ‘normal’ prices, although a ‘normal’ price at Bike Back is still very much affordable.

So Bristol’s cyclists are happy, Mother Nature is happy (or as happy as she can be right now) and the scheme is opening up new opportunities for the city’s prison population. Bike Back helps prisoners to contribute to society and the importance of this isn’t overlooked. In the words of one prisoner involved in the Bike Back scheme, ‘It’s made me feel happy that I am doing something positive, something for the community out there. ‘I had two nice bikes come in that I’ve stripped and put back together, I like to think that someone might get them for Christmas, it makes me smile.’

Bike Back operates without casting judgement. And letting prisoners know they aren’t being judged is not only a refreshing change, it can have extremely positive repercussions. As Poppy puts it, ‘If you take the project in its entirety its something quite special.’

With so many elements to the scheme, how does Poppy and the rest of the team measure its success? This is a complex but necessary task. The charity is Lottery funded, which means it has to provide evidence of the positive difference it’s making.

Bike Back collects all sorts of data including feedback from prisoners, feedback from the people who receive the bikes and, of course, the number of bikes that are sold. There’s a problem with this last one though. Development Manager Tamar Thompson explains, ‘The bikes are donated, they go into the prison where they’re fixed and then they come out,’ she says. ‘There’s a limit to what we can do.’ Last year Bike Back sold around 350 bikes. Of course they could hire a prolific mechanic who would fix and sell on plenty more bikes than that, but the prisoners are learning to become mechanics – and this takes time.

Bike Back itself doesn’t have all of the time in the world though. It secured Lottery funding and won the bid from HM Prison Bristol seven years ago, but this funding will run out in March 2017. The team can apply again but nothing is guaranteed, and even then, money is always tight. Still, they’re doing everything they can to keep the wheels turning, because right now the scheme seems to be working. Here’s what another prisoner had to say, ‘It’s made me realise I can do things without drugs. ‘I can be a more socially acceptable person and it’s not so hard. ‘I’ve come off all my meds and was still able to come over here, it helps the way I think, takes my mind off using.’

The scheme is helping break the cycle of re-offending by investing time into people, regardless of drug issues and lack of qualifications. When Bike Back does this, it can help a prisoner reform, reintegrate in to society and give something back. And after that? Well, one good turn deserves another.


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Do more

Monetary donations are always welcomed, you can make one on the Bike Back website:

 

If you’d like to volunteer, get in touch by phone to see how you can help:

  • 0117 353 4580

 

Or, if you’d like to buy a bike go to: