By Martin Kitara
Bikeworks was set up in 2007 . The founding partners Jim Blakemore and Zoe Portlock developed Bikeworks came up with the idea ater they saw strong potential for cycling to make a positive difference to the lives of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The two partners were joined by Dave Miller, who was developing a similar enterprise in East London. After meeting, Jim and Dave decided that they could achieve more by working together and this lead to the growth of the successful business operating today.
Bikeworks delivers its mission through a variety of community cycling programmes including employability for disadvantaged groups, all ability cycling, ReUse and recycling, schools cycle training and much more. As an organization, it provides cycling services to both consumers and organizations.
The company is a social enterprise that uses the bike as a means of engagement to foster social good. This is done by running an employability programme aimed at homeless people. The company now works with ex-offenders, long term unemployed and NEETs (not in education, employed or training).
The company gives them a professional qualification and helps them into work and boasts. Its courses enjoy a high success rate of about 50% and about 90% retention throughout the course. This has been aided by the huge growth in cycling industry so there are jobs out there which is fundamentally important.
Bikeworks also delivers and works with young people and adults with learning disabilities. The company gets them on adapted bikes, gives them cycling experience and is now trying to start up a disability centre of excellence in the Olympic Park. This is in the hope to offer a legacy programme that will work with the same client groups but also try to get in more referrals from organisation that work with the mentally ill. With the bike at its core, it aims to be a well being programme which co-managing director Jim Blakemore is very passionate about.
Jim Blakemore said that “It is stressful running a business but the actual, everything is very rewarding, people who work here don’t want to leave which is a good sign, so that creates a nice employee atmosphere and we are constantly seeing new people come in for the employment stuff, the disability stuff and just seeing a tangible difference”.
In terms of the disability work, he said “You can get someone who turns up in a wheelchair and can’t walk, you transfer them over into a hand cycle or even a recumbent and they have enough muscle memory in their legs or enough strength in their arms to just power themselves and that is amasingly powerful, through to having people coming onto our training programme who just find that our tutors are and our support and our environment at Bikeworks is exactly what they need to learn a new skill and get back into work.
Jamie McKechnie who suffered a traumatic brain trauma 2 years ago after being punched in the head,said: Bikeworks has helped him recover mentally. He has finished 5 out of 8 modules of the Bikeworks level 1 course in bike mechanics and the training staff believe that he will be able to complete the course.
The success of Bikeworks has come as a result of being business like, very open and honest in what it does and professional. The company is not a charity but rather a business with a social mission. Jim Blakemore says the company “has people who understand what it is to make money and that then pushes and drives you forward and then allows you to do all the things you want to.
For those wanting to start a social enterprise, Jim Blakemore had some advice. He said: “You need to set up an enterprise with a social mission and vision. There is no harm in getting some level of grant funding to pump prime into starting your business but put a business together that shows a road to sustainability because you don’t want to be chasing grants however good you are basically.”
To find out more about Bikeworks visit their website