Andrew Millest - Volunteer cycle mechanic tutor

Andrew Millest
Andrew Millest uses his skills as a bike mechanic to help re-engage young people
Andrew is a retired pharmacologist who volunteers with CERA Cycloan, a community-based bike recycling centre in Stockport, Greater Manchester. Here, he describes a typical working day and what he gets out of and gives back to the community through volunteering with young people.

What made you decide to volunteer your skills with Cycling UK?

After a lifetime of repairing and building bikes, I decided to learn how to do it properly and obtained a City & Guilds Level 2 mechanic qualification in the summer of 2015. At the end of 2015, I decided to retire from my scientific work and wanted to apply my new qualification in a meaningful way. 

I was introduced to Brian Pendlebury at CERA Cycloan and was inspired to volunteer at his project, where cycle mechanics and bike repairs are used as a vehicle to help re-engage young people who have dropped out of mainstream education in a productive way and help give them a range of skills for life. 

How much time are you able to commit?

Two days per week.

Who do you support?

I have supported a number of young people and adults as they have learned to carry out systemic bike checks and identify issues that need repair. I have educated the young people in the safe use of tools, in general workshop practice and I coach them as they learn the skills needed to successfully and independently refurbish bikes for sale or for donation to worthy causes.

As part of the tuition in cycle repairs, I've supported young people in other aspects of bike shop work by helping them record faults with bikes, identify and price parts and labour, and price bikes for sale. This work, along with providing moral support when the young people interact with customers, is aimed at enhancing their self-esteem and confidence. 

What has been the greatest challenge you have encountered?

Assessing and repairing bikes is easy compared with the challenge I faced improving my own ability to interact with young people, some of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who can have very different behaviours to the people whom I have previously met in my professional and personal life. Learning how to manage a range of behaviours, including on occasion aggression, has been a key challenge in my volunteering role. 

Describe a typical day in your volunteer role

A typical day starts with a short planning session with the permanent staff at CERA, where we assign ourselves to different tasks that will be undertaken with the young people who are attending that day.

I might work with a young person to assess bikes that have been donated to the project to determine which can be refurbished in a cost-effective way, so carrying out systematic checks and working out which parts could be repaired or if it would be better to strip a bike for parts to use for other repairs or for upcycling. I'd then work with the young person to provide an appropriate level of support - some people come to CERA with minimal mechanical skills, and need lots of support, others need less support but require gentle guidance with specialist tools or unusual bikes. Part of the planning each day is to work out with the CERA staff how much and when to step back with a young person so that they get the chance to improve their skills and show their independence and confidence.

During the day, I may work on a bike refurbishment of my own, or I may deal with customers to provide help with choosing a bike for sale, or I may carry out servicing on customer bikes.

I've also been part of the mechanic team at Bike Doctor events and a charity bike build event - these have been very enjoyable for me to get out and meet other cyclists and to help promote cycling in general. 

When not actually getting my hands dirty with bikes, I'm also able to help out with some of the other aspects of running a bike shop, such as helping with advertising bikes and bits on the internet and keep the burgeoning stock of recycle parts under control!

What made me most pleased was that the young person was himself incredibly proud of his achievement, was able to describe accurately what tasks he had done to other people, and was then able to go on and apply his skills to other bikes without needing constant supervision. 

Andrew Millest, Volunteer Bike Mechanic Tutor

Of all the tasks you have helped with, what are you most proud of?

I've been most proud when one of the young people attending sessions at the bike shop was able to turn a bike that was initially a piece of junk into a tidy, fully-functioning, rideable bike. What made me most pleased was that the young person was himself incredibly proud of his achievement, was able to describe accurately what tasks he had done to other people, and was then able to go on and apply his skills to other bikes without needing constant supervision. 

What do you get out of the experience?

I have learned a great deal about myself and my own strengths and weaknesses, as well as gaining a much better understanding of the issues that can face young people in our modern society. I've also learned a huge amount about bikes from the other people at CERA Cycloan, as well as from some of the young people who come to the project. It's a constant learning experience about bikes and about people that has been challenging, not always totally enjoyable, but ultimately rewarding. 

What would you say to someone considering volunteering with Cycling UK?

Find a project that appeals to you, even if it does seem a bit out of your experience and is potentially a little scary. People who are asking for volunteers aren't going to leave you to sink or swim, they want you to succeed! Give volunteering a go and see if it works for you. 


Find out more about becoming a volunteer