How to develop a bicycle maintenance workshop as a community project

The Headset workshop

How to develop a bicycle maintenance workshop as a community project

Angus Dawson from Headset explains how he set up two cost-neutral bicycle workshops in the Portland to Dorchester transport corridor.

Some things to bear in mind: for a successful community bike workshop project you will need:

  • Premises to base the workshop in.
  • A team of staff, with a background in bicycle maintenance, to volunteer their services.
  • Start up funding of at least £3,000.
  • Constitute your project as a form of non-profit making organisation and create a steering body for it.
  • Network extensively among local public institutions and private organisations.

In April 2011, the Headset project began with a successful bid to the local Weymouth and Portland Borough Council for funds to start a bicycle maintenance workshop on Portland, Dorset.

The Isle of Portland has a community of 12,000 and sits at the end of a causeway that connects it to the south Dorset mainland and the Weymouth-Dorchester transport corridor. The Isle is a popular tourist destination, with a history of limestone quarrying and fishing, and a small retail/service sector. At the time there was no bicycle retailer or workshop on Portland, making the establishment of Headset an entirely unique venture.  

Our initial expenditure went on purchasing a 10m portacabin, which the Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy agreed to site in its grounds, and fitting it out with tools and two bike stands. (You can watch a video of the portacabin’s delivery!).

The funding for this came from the local borough council. A local community leader and I bid for funds to start a bicycle maintenance project from a budget the council had set aside for community cohesion. We made the case that such a project would not only engage young people in developing lifelong skills and healthy attitudes, but it would also benefit the broader community.

We had to apply for planning permission to site the workshop and that took the best part of six months to go through. Once that was completed, and an electrical supply had been connected to the workshop, we were ready to open in January 2012. The funding we received from the council saw us through the first eight months.

Operating the workshop with no funds to pay mechanics was obviously a disadvantage. In such a situation all you can do is make a ‘pitch’ to those you want to bring in, and be tireless in reinforcing the vision and potential of where the project is going.

Angus Dawson, Headset

I was lucky enough to be able to recruit a retired helicopter engineer and a freelance graphics graduate, both of whom were from the local community and were keen to be involved. As a group of three we became the core Headset team, with a set of skills that could not only be used in the workshop but also harnessed to promote and market the workshop's activities.

That is not to say that starting up the project and running it for the first few months wasn’t a demanding job - indeed, as the workshop increased its opening hours from two afternoons to all week long, I can well remember my apprehension at asking the team to up their contribution but not being able to offer them any financial reward. 

Keeping the team together in those early months was vital, and the project made it through to October 2012, when we received funding from the Dorset LSTF (Local Sustainable Transport Fund), only by virtue of the team's goodwill and the huge amount of enjoyment we were all getting from seeing Headset grow.

Over the course of those first eight months, the project had two local press releases and developed a brand design that was used to create advertising posters.

Slowly, through these avenues and word of mouth, the workshop became busier and busier. Local people donated their old bikes, bought bikes in for servicing or refurbishing, and the workshop began to sell bespoke bikes built to customer’s own specification.

Angus Dawson, Headeset 

In addition, the project established new partnerships in the community. A local arts festival group (b-side) donated equipment that could be used by bicycles to generate electricity - this powered music systems at Olympic-associated events hosted by the arts group through the summer. The result was further publicity and the opportunity to be in the public eye.

At the same time, another partnership with a car bodywork company based on Portland meant that bicycle frames could be sandblasted and then re-sprayed to a high specification at cost price. This allowed Headset to make full use of any donated bicycles and recycle them to a high standard.

Our second tranche of funding came from a successful bid in October 2012 to our local county council for funds from the LSTF. In principle, the Headset project has three years of funding (2012-2015), in return for which it is delivering five objects aimed at developing a sustainable transport agenda in the local transport corridor.

A good example of one of these objectives is our website - - where we are creating a hub of localised information and point of contact for anyone in the community interested in cycling to work or for leisure.

This significant amount of funding has allowed the project to create 20 hours of paid work for the mechanics, which although really only part-time, is nevertheless paid work and a step nearer our final goal.

The project has also been able to invest in Cytech training, thereby increasing our level of expertise, and reducing our public liability costs.

Angus Dawson, Headset 

In addition to funding from public institutions, the Headset project has also been successful in seeking funds from the private sector. Our second workshop, situated in Weymouth (population 56,000) and established in partnership with Rethink, Dorset Social Services and a local community group, was entirely funded by a local housing association, Synergy. This new workshop will give Headset greater opportunity to impact on the transport and leisure habits of the community, and is a example of how funding can be gained across the spectrum of the economy.

The Headset project shows that local people can innovate and use funding resources in their area to make a difference in their community. In an era where sustainable transport and energy use is an increasingly significant item in economic development and family finances, this project champions sustainable modes of transport and is delivering affordable services to local people.

For more information about how to set up a similar project please contact us here.

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