St Catharine’s bike repair initiative helps refugees stay on the road

Published: Tuesday July 18, 2023

Over four hot days in June, Henrietta Cozens from St Catharine’s Gloucester and Gareth Cook from GC Cycles helped to repair 67 bikes belonging to refugees from over 15 countries.

Henrietta shares how her love for cycling and a heart for the wellbeing of asylum seekers led to setting up the Bikes for Refugees Project.

“In 2021, I became certified with British Cycling to lead cycle rides for women, through an initiative at The Friendship Cafe. In Gloucester, there was a particular aim to get more women from ethnic minorities on their bikes. Soon after, I co-led a few rides to Over Farm with Nicky Haverson, who works with Active Gloucestershire. As we cycled side-by-side, Nicky told me about the money they had for people to get more active in Gloucestershire; funding that can be applied for by community groups or other charities.

“About the same time, asylum seekers were arriving in Gloucester. The largest accommodation site is located very close to our church and soon people were knocking on the church door, asking for help with English, transport, food and faith: people from Sudan, Chad, Iran, Ukraine, Albania, Afghanistan among others. As a church, we started some initiatives to meet these needs.”

GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) contacted churches across the Diocese asking for support with providing bikes. At first, Henrietta was unable to help due to other commitments, but an incident changed her mind.

“Hossein, an asylum seeker we knew and loved, had attempted to come to our Midnight Mass service on Christmas Eve 2022 (with no helmets and no lights), got knocked off his bike and broke his arm. He was unable to come to church again for a couple of months. I was shocked, and felt compelled to act.

“I found the grant application form fairly easy to fill in. Our churchwarden agreed to be a second name as applicant, and together we had to supply the church charity’s constitution, which proved the trickiest part. We applied for money for 100 helmets, 100 sets of lights and 42 bicycle repairs.”

The team at Active Gloucestershire supported the application, having read the stories – of Hossein falling off his bike due to no lights, and of Summayah who used to cycle to the church’s free English classes but had been arriving late due to bike problems – and presented the project to Sport England. On 31 March, Henrietta received an email to confirm Sport England’s support and was granted £5,605 for the project.

The team got straight to work and recruited Gareth from GC Cycles, a mobile bike repair service, to carry out the repairs and order the spare parts needed.

Henrietta says, “We chose to carry out bike repair days in paired dates: a Thursday on site in the asylum seekers’ hotel car park, a Friday at our church, repeated again a fortnight later. This meant we could scoop up all those with such severe bike problems they couldn’t safely cycle anywhere, and catch the children arriving ‘home’ from school by bike, but could also direct the overspill to our church the next day. Those that chose to come on the Fridays discovered where our church is.”

‘Before, when I got a flat tyre, I had to stop cycling – or even look for another bike! After you fixed my bike I cycled home – I felt like I was flying!’  Iranian asylum seeker, Gloucester

On the four days in June as well as fixing 67 bikes from people from over 15 countries, the team gave out 60 cycling helmets.

“I ordered the helmets and lights online and we will distribute the remainder in September during our last two repair dates, before the clocks change and the evenings become darker.”

Henrietta adds, “I thought this project would ‘use up’ my time or ‘distract me’ from other things, but actually I am loving every conversation with every precious person.”

If you know asylum seekers or refugees who need a cycling helmet or lights, please direct them to St Catharine’s Church on London Road, Gloucester on a Wednesday morning, where they run free refugee English classes, or if you need a bulk amount, contact Henrietta on ku.oc1701485767.ooha1701485767y@kun1701485767eheht1701485767

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