The Cycling UK group helping the homeless
Up to 2,000 people are living on the streets of Manchester or in temporary accommodation, GMCA estimates, but members of a Cycling UK Community Cycle Club have been working with local agencies to support rough sleepers by making deliveries of food and warm clothing during the cold snap over Christmas and the New Year.
North Manchester Community Cycling Club was set up four years ago by Mohammed Ali and Tony Cramp, who were keen to do more cycling and encourage others to follow suit. The club is part of the wider ‘Communities 4 All’ project based at Khizra Mosque, which incorporates a wide range of events and activities for those who live in the surrounding area.
Normally on Sundays, Communities 4 All hold regular cycling sessions; setting off from the mosque in North Manchester, provide opportunities for community members to learn to ride, and lend bikes out to build people's confidence and help them explore the local area. Owing to the most recent guidelines around group cycling, they have not been able to run the sessions so they have put their time to a good use instead.
Five club regulars have been delivering food, hot drinks and support packages by bike and on foot, to continue to get exercise and fresh air themselves while supporting those who are most in need. They have also taken out youth groups to see first-hand the challenges of living on the streets and to learn more about running a food bank at the centre.
Initially, the cyclists raised money and collected donations from local residents, to put together support packs for those rough sleeping in the cold weather, including items such as sleeping bags, hats, scarves and warm clothes. They also approached local coffee shops to ask business owners to donate hot teas, coffees and snacks to give out to people on the street.
So far, it's estimated that around 150 homeless people have been supported through the scheme, with North Manchester Community Cycling Club volunteers having distributed around 100 food packages as well as sleeping bags and items of warm clothing.
Mohammed Ali, from Communities 4 All, said: “It has been amazing the response from those we have helped and they seem so appreciative that someone cares.
“So many of those sleeping rough have been so unselfish and thinking about and looking out for eachother by never taking more than they need. They have directed us to others in the area so we can help them as well or have told us they don’t need a sleeping bag and asked if could put it to better use for another person in need.”
The club gives me the chance to spread the passion, and to teach people skills not just to cycle but also to do it safely. By volunteering at Dr Bike sessions and helping the homeless, it gives me a chance to reach out to the less fortunate in our community which gives me a sense of happiness
Mossab ben Jaber, North Manchester Community Cycling Club
He added: “I believe the difference charities like ours have made can change lives. We are as we say only one pay cheque away from being homeless and each person you meet has their own story. We have seen cases of many people on the street this year due to losing their job.
"We have met people that have been in the Armed Forces or worked in the NHS that have temporarily ended up on the streets or even still have a job but became homeless over the weekend. It has also made a difference to us as volunteers as we can stay active and healthy and gives a purpose while helping those less fortunate on the streets.”
Each Sunday, the group members are travelling by foot or by pool bikes - some of which were donated by Greater Manchester Police after being recovered from thieves. These bikes have been repaired for use including being hired out to the community.
Travelling from Cheetham Hill to central Manchester, the group have been stopping along the way to approach anyone who appears to be rough sleeping. They have been distributing the support packages of food and warm clothing from a social distance and also asking people if they need any assistance with making phone calls to contact local support services and hostels, if they are not already in contact with these groups.
Manchester City Council have been supporting the North Manchester Cycling Club’s work and it is hoped the project can continue throughout the winter.
North Manchester Community Cycling Club also held Dr Bike sessions to repair and check the safety of bikes as part of Cycling UK’s Big Bike Revival for four months last year.
Another member of the group, Mossab ben Jaber who has been cycling with the club for around four years said: "I am passionate about cycling for the health benefits and I also enjoy exploring new areas around the community and meeting different people
"Being part of the club gives me the chance to spread the passion, and to teach people skills not just to cycle but also to do it safely. By volunteering at Dr Bike sessions and helping the homeless, it gives me a chance to reach out to the less fortunate in our community which gives me a sense of happiness and feeling blessed."