Local bike shop promotes equality and ownership

An employee-owned bike shop in Birmingham is encouraging the local community to gain independence by cycling more often. Created at the end of 2009 by a group of...

An employee-owned bike shop in Birmingham is encouraging the local community to gain independence by cycling more often. Created at the end of 2009 by a group of students from Birmingham University, Bike Foundry has become a popular meeting place for those keen on cycling.

The workers' co-operative, based in Stirchley, South Birmingham, is owned by the four founding members — Chris Tomlinson, Nancy Langfeldt, Finlay Skillen and Lauren Baker. 

Chris explained how the idea of founding a co-op came to them: “Fin, Lauren and I had just set up Gung Ho Housing Co-operative where we all live in South Birmingham. Once we'd got ourselves out of the rented housing market we wanted to create a workplace that we could manage for ourselves, without a boss.”

All four members of Bike Foundry are directors and they are paid according to need, not on an hourly rate.

Although they had been thinking of starting a co-operative café, the four friends eventually decided a bike co-op was more feasible. “A bike recycling, repairing and training project seemed like a natural choice as we all cycled and worked on our own bike already”.

At the time Fin was a cycle courier and Chris was volunteering at Coventry Peace House's Cycle Centre. “Additionally cycling seemed like it was becoming more popular, which we hoped meant that we'd be able to earn enough to pay ourselves a living wage on,” said Chris.

The four founding members created the bike co-op with a clear social purpose in mind. They wanted to increase sustainable transport, allowing people with low income to gain greater independence. They were also aiming to reduce waste and encourage active lifestyles.

However, their vision went beyond the social dimension. By creating the bike co-op they were hoping to prove that employee ownership could be key to building a new economic model. “A co-operative was the natural form for these aspirations,” said Chris.

Before moving to their current location, the members of the bike co-op used to rent a small room in a music rehearsal space week by week. Thus the greatest challenge for the bike co-op has been leasing a shop on a local high street.

“That was almost two years ago and our co-op has become stronger as a result,” said Chris. The co-op promotes cycling activities, offers training sessions and recycles discarded bikes. At Bike Foundry customers can find recycled bikes for an affordable price. “We sell refurbished bikes, service bikes, sell new and second hand parts and accessories and offer on-road and maintenance training”.

The co-op engages with the local community as much as possible. Once a month they run a stall at Strichley Community Market, a not-for-profit local initiative which Nancy Langfeldt, another founding member of the co-ops, helped to set up.

“Every week we run our Tool Club, which, for £10 a year, members of the public can join and work on their own bikes using our workshop and tolos,” said Chris.

This also gives them a chance to share knowledge and exchange ideas. The Tool Club has around 60 members at the moment. Furthermore, the women members formed a group called Femme Pédale, organising rides and other activities to promote cycling.

Since one of their goals is to develop a cycling culture, the members of Bike Foundry are also trying to get young people involved in cycling activities. They run a bike club at a local primary school, helping children to learn more about safe cycling and bike maintenance.

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