Refugee Week starts with a celebration of bikes changing lives
Omolara Ibrahim was just one of a huge group to take part in the ride on Monday morning; she is an asylum seeker who came to the UK two years ago from Nigeria, and has settled in Portsmouth. Omolara initially learnt to ride a bike with Portsmouth Women’s Learn to Ride group, a Cycling UK Community Cycle Club run with the help of the Red Cross.
Whenever I ride I feel I have some pride in me.
Omolara says, “I was trying to learn for a long time, and had some lessons here. I cycle to college now. It’s lovely, I love it. Whenever I ride I feel I have some pride in me, and some independence. Portsmouth is a lovely place to live.”
Laura Hales, Head of Development for Cycling UK, explains, “Having access to a bicycle can be transformative to someone’s life, particularly a refugee living in a new place. It gives a person an active and inexpensive way to get around, whether that’s to work or to school or simply to be out and part of the community.
“Cycling UK exists to bring the benefits of cycling to as many people as possible, regardless of their background or ability, and it’s been brilliant to able to partner with the Red Cross on this worthwhile project and see such success.”
Another person to benefit from the bicycle project is Sakou Kebbeh. She began receiving support from the Red Cross when she arrived in Portsmouth in September last year.
She explained, “When I arrived in Portsmouth I didn’t know anyone. I went to the Red Cross and they were able to help me with a housing issue that I had. I would go to them every Monday and Thursday and they helped me with lots of things. The Red Cross has become my second home. They are a like a family to me.
“I took part in the bike project and it has been so helpful. I don’t have a lot of money so couldn’t afford transport. The bike has been so useful. I use it to get to my volunteering roles with the Red Cross and at the British Heart Foundation shop. I have also just started an IT course at Highbury College. The bike means I can get around easily and it has helped me feel more settled in Portsmouth.”
The Refugee Week ride was just one outing for the successful project between the Red Cross and Cycling UK; the two charities coordinate twice a week to run rides and maintenance sessions.
Often, this is their only mode of transport so the bicycle can be a really important tool in helping them engage with many aspects of community life.
Golum Chowdhury, project coordinator at the Red Cross, explains, “We take donated or unusable bikes, refurbish them and then train our service users in bicycle maintenance, riding and road safety.
“At the end of the training the participants are given the bike and safety equipment. Often, this is their only mode of transport so the bicycle can be a really important tool in helping them engage with many aspects of community life.
“It also helps improve their knowledge and skills, encourages exercise, improves mental health and is a social activity for those who are lonely and isolated. It’s has been a very successful project.”