Colin Southern is a member of Excelsior Lodge No 3580 in the Woolton and Garston Group and founded ‘Bike Works’ as a self-funded community project in Skelmersdale.
The remit of the project is to provide low-cost transport to people in West Lancashire. It was born out of a ‘Men in Sheds’ programme utilising skills, and targeting men who are no longer working or experiencing social isolation. It has been a big success as it has grown into its own programme and has been working with Lancashire County Council, Merseyside Police and West Lancashire Borough Council to implement the projects.
Basically, it is unemployed people making bikes for the unemployed who are in the process of being employed. Another example is volunteers repairing 200 Merseyside Police Spitfire Heritage Bikes which are going to an Africa project in Lesotho. Refurbished bikes have also been donated to Active Lancashire’s unemployment program across the whole of Lancashire and also a homeless shelter in Morecambe Football Club.
Early in January when COVID-19 reports were filtering through, Bike Works did not want to risk any of their staff so a lot of COVID-19 safeguards were put in place, especially with some of the volunteers having pre-existing medical conditions. A disinfectant cleaning station was built so any bike coming in for servicing was cleaned and kept in a separate area for 72 hours before work could be carried out. The workshop was split up into working cubicles and sectioned off with a nominated person for each section who was also provided with correct PPE supplied.
Bike Works are getting bikes from local recycling centres, the public and Merseyside Police so that they have been able to keep up with demand and still maintain a good stock of bikes and having a large factory premises, has enable them to produce bikes at a faster rate than bike shops.
They were asked by Lancashire County Council (LCC) to switch production from the unemployed to NHS staff. This was initiated after discussing with LCC that quite a few NHS workers were coming in for low cost bikes because they did not want to use public transport. It seemed like a good idea and this programme was rolled out to all parts of Lancashire with a request put on social-media for people to donate bikes to help NHS staff during lockdown – to which there was a massive response.
Bike Works have been busy everyday with roughly 40 bike services and have a core team of mechanics from the local population. They have also been delivering bikes across Lancashire to NHS and key workers. Although they have not been able to deliver direct to hospitals and care homes there have been designated LCC drop-points, including the Blackpool Winter Gardens.