Learning to ride a bike offers migrant women at Wellsprings for Women community centre in Dandenong a new sense of freedom and independence.
Following their English classes at the centre, the women spend an hour or so in a nearby park mastering their balance and learning to manoeuvre bikes around its network of paths.
Concentration is paramount and delight is obvious as laughter and cheers follow each small achievement.
Bicycle Network runs the sessions weekly and the women look forward the mental and physical challenge as they build their skills and master each milestone.
Session leader Cheryl Voigt says using children’s bikes gives the women a lower centre of gravity and helps them gain confidence more rapidly. She patiently guides two beginners down a grassy slope as they learn to balance on two wheels, encouraging and admiring their steely determination.
“I want to be able to ride with my children,” says a smiling mother of four from Afghanistan as she turns her bike in slow, wide circles. “My older daughters are good bike riders and I want to be able to ride to school with all my children and even go to the shops on a bike.”
Wellsprings’ general manager, Robyn Erwin, says the program, which has been running for three terms since the start of the year, has helped 20 women learn to ride.
“Many of the women don’t have cars, or don’t drive, and getting around is difficult for them. Riding gives them a new sense of freedom and purpose,” says Robyn.
“We provide wraparound support for the women, including English classes and other services. Our multi-cultural team offers safety and equity programs, youth and children’s services and employment and housing support.”
The centre’s bikes are available for the women to borrow as they gain skills, but they are ageing rapidly and there is nowhere to store them out of the weather. Cheryl dusts them down before each session and does what she can to get them in working order.
“We would absolutely love a donation of some newer bikes and to find a way to store them out of the weather,” Cheryl says.
“Children’s bikes are perfect as the women begin and that’s all we have anyway, but as they progress it would be great set up a bike library with some adult-sized bikes that they could borrow when they needed to get around.”
Bicycle Network’s client and program manager, Fiona Neuwirth, says there are plans to continue the program into next year and the team is looking at ways to extend it in other communities – and to work with donors to build a fleet of bikes for participants to learn on and borrow for errands.
“We are a not-for-profit organisation, and we rely heavily on donations from businesses and the community to help us fund our bike education programs,” she says.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.