Oxford bicycle co-op helps build up dreams

Being asked to custom-build a pair of dream bikes based on drawings supplied by two clients sounds like a tough task for a group of young apprentices. When...

But it’s a challenge that a group of youngsters at the Oxford Cycle Workshop co-op have risen to and the bikes have been built and auctioned off with proceeds being used to help the co-operative expand its work with young people.

OCW was one of three social enterprises — and the only co-op — chosen to take part in the auction. The other two enterprises were Bikeworks of London and Edinburgh’s The Bike Station whose celebrity clients included designer Wayne Hemingway and television presenter Dawn Porter.

The Oxford Cycle Workshop is a workers’ co-operative, which works hand-in-hand with its partner OCW Training, which teaches a team of youngsters about building bikes.

The current team of eight apprentices, all aged between 17 and 21, have been working within the co-operative since March, and according to co-op member Dan Harris, the bike building project was the perfect opportunity for them.

“We were contacted by the Bike Week organisers and asked if, as a social enterprise working with young people, we’d get involved and build the bikes. We were delighted and even more so when we found out the identity of our bike designers. The young people have been working towards a level two NVQ in bicycle maintenance so the opportunity from Bike Week came at the perfect time.”

Both Sir Alan and Victoria Pendleton provided the co-operative with drawings and then the team of apprentices, working under the guidance of co-op member Sean Buckley, set about turning drawings into real life bikes.

For a man more associated with private jets and expensive cars, Sir Alan’s design was far from extravagant — although he did seem to be insisting on having two water bottles attached to the bike. Victoria Pendleton’s ideas were far more sleek and graceful.

Since completion — and prior to auction — the bikes have been displayed at London’s Transport Museum. Members of the co-operative were planning to take the young people to London for last week’s auction, but it was unclear whether they would get to meet their celebrity designers — or what they think of the bikes created for them.

Dan Harris is however certain that both would be impressed, not just by the finished results but by the work that went into creating them.

“The young people absolutely loved doing it. Considering some of them have just come out of school and they’ve struggled to find work, they’ve all been incredible. They were so eager to get their teeth into something and this project was perfect. They worked super hard, giving up their lunch hours and doing whatever it took to get the job done.”

And the benefits have been felt not just by the young people, but the rest of the co-operative: “It’s been very exciting in terms of adding value to our business. They’ve brought their own creativity and energy to the co-operative and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them.”

The co-operative nature of the business is something that the young people have been aware of since day one.

“That’s been really important to us, to show the young people our co-operative status and what that means in practice. Like anyone coming in to work at a co-operative for the first time, it can take a bit of getting used to, wondering who the boss is, but then suddenly the penny just drops.

“It’s been wonderful to be able to expose the young people to our way of working from day one — and they’ve seen how we communicate with each other and how we all take on responsibilities, and share rewards. 

“Before every staff meeting we’ve had a separate meeting with the young people so they can contribute or get anything off their chests.”

And unlike Sir Alan in his television role, the Oxford Cycle Workshop hopes to be able to offer opportunities to most, if not all, of the apprentices. 

“We are certainly looking to keep them with us if we can as they are all completely employable,” says Dan Harris. “We are keen to offer jobs to as many as possible but we’ve also had inquiries already from other bike shops in Oxford who are crying out for talented bike mechanics so hopefully they all have a very secure future.”

The same seems true of the co-operative. After a difficult winter — cycling is less attractive in deep snow — the co-operative has enjoyed a “cracking” spring and is already looking beyond the summer and gearing itself up for the new intake of students to the city.

In this article

Join the Conversation