A community bike shop set up in partnership by Westminster City Council, Groundwork London and Cycle Confident offers unemployed residents the opportunity to train as bike mechanics and receive the London Living Wage while in apprenticeship.
Throughout the six-month program, interns work alongside experienced bike mechanics refurbishing old bikes, 80% of which are sold at affordable prices to generate revenue for the store and 20% is donated to the local community.
Since the store opened in March 2021, 30 Westminster residents have completed their six-month training and most have gone on to find employment, many in the cycling industry.
Chris Whiteley, who successfully completed his paid internship at Westminster Wheels and is now a full-time bike mechanic, said: “I first moved to London last year. I was homeless before coming here, so I moved in with my sister.
“I found a poster for Westminster Wheels when I was riding around one day and thought, I love bikes and would like to learn how to fix them. Westminster Wheels has completely changed my life. I went from not having no idea or what to do with my life to find a career that I could happily spend the rest of my life doing.
Westminster Wheels has so far donated over 80 bikes which have been targeted in areas of Westminster with the highest rates of health deprivation and inequality. Over the past year, bikes have been provided to community organizations including Marylebone Bangladesh Society, Paddington Development Trust, women’s groups and through the council’s children’s services.
To promote cycling safety, all beneficiaries are made aware of cycling training and the support and advice offered from the shop on Church Street.
This year, Westminster Wheels will extend its reach by donating bicycle maintenance vouchers to low-income families in Westminster with the aim of providing 450 vouchers over the next six months.
Linking to Westminster City Council’s wider climate action plan, including its ambition to become a carbon neutral council by 2030 and a city by 2040, the scheme also has a strong focus on sustainability.
In its first year, nine tons of disused bikes that would otherwise have been thrown away were refurbished. Local people are encouraged and allowed to choose active transportation over the car.
The scope of the project has been made possible through the sponsorship of Westminster businesses including Capita, Ecoworld, Grosvenor, The Howard of Walden Estate, RMG, Westminster Community Homes, Ecoworld, HA Marks, Wates and Vital Energy.
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Councilor Geoff Barraclough, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Westminster City Council, said: ‘Westminster Wheels has helped people facing high barriers to employment, such as homelessness, to gain useful new skills. More than 60% of trainees are now in full-time employment.
“If you’re a keen biker or new to two wheels, head to the Westminster Wheels store on Church Street to meet the interns and get expert advice on affordable bikes and maintenance.”