Welcome Wheels: providing bikes to UK asylum seekers

A community project in Norwich has been providing hundreds of bikes to refugees and asylum seekers in a bid to improve mobility and encourage healthy active travel.

Welcome Wheels is a collaboration between several charities and non-profit groups in Norwich. The aim of the project is simple: provide bikes in kind to refugees, asylum seekers and isolated migrants who are settling in the city.

A spokesperson from Bicycle Links told us that the project is much more than a free bike.

“Cycling is convenient and virtually free to do, and a bike can transform someone’s life and unlock their new city. Getting to English classes, picking up the kids from school, or volunteering, all require transport.

“Daily tasks that we might take for granted, such as shopping and meeting friends. Tasks like this can be almost impossible for someone who has arrived in a new country, with such limited resources to even pay for bus fares.

Welcome Wheels was established following a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2018, which raised money to cover the costs for new bike parts, safety equipment such as lights, locks, and helmets, and accessories such as tubes, brake pads, and tyres.

Bike donations are an equally important aspect of the scheme. Over the last 4 years Welcome Wheels received over 6000 second-hand bikes donated from the local community.

A recent study evaluating the Welcome Wheels program, published in the Journal of Transport & Health, found that there was an increase in bike riding in the majority of the study participants who accessed the program.

“We have had feedback and testimonies from the asylum seekers and refugees whose lives have been transformed by the bicycles we provide,” a spokesperson from Welcome Wheels told us.

The evaluation study concluded that such schemes ‘have potential to reduce health inequalities by encouraging active travel’. This raises the question of whether similar schemes could work in Australia.

Meanwhile, the team behind Welcome Wheels are dedicated to keeping the program moving and expanding.

“The future for Welcome Wheels is hard to predict. We are committed to keep it running and we have a few members of staff researching for more funding available from larger companies or even sponsorship. We are aiming to provide even more bikes each year, increasing the discounts on repairs and general maintenance from 50% back to 90% as it was previously. We are also looking into bikeability lessons and workshops teaching basic bike repairs.”

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