Over eighty refugees and asylum-seekers have been given free bikes so far in 2018, thanks the Welcome Wheels project in the heart of Norwich.
Mutaz Adam was one of the first to receive a bike. A Sudanese asylum- seeker, he says the generosity of the project has transformed his life, giving him a new-found freedom: “Everything is easier. My life is easier. I can come out anytime and go anywhere.”
Before he owned a bike, Mutaz relied on occasional bus passes to get around, issued by the local charity English Plus. Now he can cycle anywhere in the city which means he can get to college or visit friends whenever he wants. Reflecting on the project he adds: “People in Norwich make us feel at home.”
Bicycle Links, a social enterprise based in the centre of historic Norwich, came up with the idea. It occurred to them that there was an obvious need for more bikes within the refugee community. “We asked the question and the answer that came back was a resounding ‘yes’,” says George Wallis-Ryder from the bike store.
Bicycle Links launched a crowdfunder and an appeal for unwanted bikes in the spring. Within months, they had raised over £10,000 and dozens of free bikes had been donated. In his view George adds, “Overwhelmingly Norwich is a welcoming and eclectic city. Increasingly it’s also a cycle-friendly city, so I think people liked the fact that they could easily contribute and get involved.”
Following a busy summer, the bike shop is still working their way through the list of families and individuals from the migrant or refugee community who want bikes.
They are issued with a bike, helmet, lights and a lock as part of the package. If anything goes wrong with the bike, they can return to Bicycle Links for help to fix it, and they are looking to set up bicycle maintenance classes in the autumn.
The obstacle of not knowing how to ride a bike has also been overcome. Over a dozen people have been taught how to ride a bike, helped by an initiative run by Norfolk County Council.
They say donations of unwanted bikes are still welcome at their King Street shop.