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Rebuilding bikes to rebuild lives

'Bike Back' scheme helps prisoners rebuild their self-worth and mental health

'Bike Back' scheme helps prisoners rebuild their self-worth and mental health

“I stopped eating for a month because I was so unhappy. I was starving myself. An officer on the wing got me eating again, then I came to the workshop… It’s the workshop that make us not feel like prisoners. I’ve made friends here. On the wings you don’t really talk. I’m really enjoying education, learning things here that I haven’t on the outside.”

For people like Nathan, it’s hard to overstate how damaging some people find the experience of surviving in a prison environment.

Many prisoners become despondent, depressed and angry and have no sense of purpose and nothing to keep them occupied.

Whilst prison is a punishment, it serves a secondary and equally important purpose which is to rehabilitate and help people find a place in society once their sentence has been completed.

So how can you help rehabilitate people in a punishing environment?

‘Bike Back’ is an innovative scheme operated by Life Cycle UK that uses bicycle refurbishment to provide prisoners at HMP Bristol with meaningful activity and recognised qualifications to help them re-build their confidence – and their lives.

“If we’re serious about helping prisoners to create a better life, we have to work with them to re-build their confidence, skills and aspirations.”

Ed Norton, Life Cycle UK

According to a recent report by The Prison Reform Trust, levels of purposeful activity are “unacceptable” in three quarters of prisons: the lowest level ever recorded.

In addition, violence and disorder has risen sharply, and rates of self-harm are spiralling; suicides continue to rise.

Ed Norton, Development Manager at Life Cycle UK, looks towards a positive future where re-skilling inmates provides opportunities to people which weren’t provided before they were incarcerated.

“We give prisoners with complex needs qualifications – and hope for the future. Many of the prisoners we work with were excluded from school and have never had a job. We can’t just lock people away and forget about them. If we’re serious about helping prisoners to create a better life, we have to work with them to re-build their confidence, skills and aspirations.”

‘Bike Back’ collects donations of unwanted and broken bikes from the local community and teaches prisoners the skills to get them back into working order.

The project gives eight prisoners at a time (around 40 each year) the chance to learn these new skills and help the local community. Once the bikes have been returned to working order, over 300 of them are sold at a low cost to provide affordable transport to Bristolians on low-incomes.

In addition around 600 people a year visit the workshop in the prison car park to donate an old bike, buy a fixed one or volunteer.

“This is important to help challenge the perception that prisoners are undesirables incapable of contributing positively to society. Our model is simple, but highly effective and it’s incredibly important that we involve communities in helping to rebuild people’s lives.”

Since 2010, ‘Bike Back’ and Life Cycle UK have supported 212 prisoners at HMP Bristol to refurbish 1,266 bikes; and that positive impact is continually expanded.

For Al, it provides new meaning and purpose to his rehabilitation – and a future beyond the prison walls.

“It’s made me realise I can do things without drugs. I can be a more socially acceptable person and it’s not so hard. I’ve come off all my meds and was still able to come over here, took just one afternoon off. It helps the way I think, takes my mind off using.”

*Prisoner names have been changed.


life cycleLife Cycle UK is a home-grown Bristol charity that has been transforming lives through cycling and bikes since 1999. Life Cycle particularly focuses on “Inclusive Cycling Projects” that support individuals with disabilities, mental health illness, offenders, isolated older people and disadvantaged young people. Across all their work, they helped 4,169 people in 2015.



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Pamela Young 4 years ago

Brilliant ! give the prisoners – who probably are there because they made some unwise choices – their dignity . also great training

Jonathan Davies 4 years ago

Great idea.

john rushton 4 years ago

great initiative– re-cycling bicycles and people !!– hope the idea will be spread to other institutions and re-cycle furniture and electrical goods ( for extended skills !) as well.

Bob Speck 4 years ago

A brilliant project and I’m glad Triodos is involved.