The project getting refugees on their bikes in London

The Bike Project helps refugees embark on new lives in the UK capital, giving them a way to travel around the city and a vital support network.

The Bike Project founder and director Jem, with good friend, volunteer mechanic Silla.
© James Sharrock Photography

It is pricey to get around London. There are also a lot of bikes going rusty in garages or sadly stored on balconies. For refugees and asylum-seekers who struggle to meet the cost of a London travel card, a bike is a passport that opens up the city.

The Bike Project – a team of bike lovers and volunteers based in South London – refurbish second-hand bikes and give them to refugees and asylum-seekers, helping them attend crucial interviews and appointments. They also run workshops to train refugees and volunteers in essential bike maintenance. 

Jem Stein, the founder of The Bike Project, was inspired while a student at the London School of Economics. He was shocked to learn that Adam, a refugee from Darfur whom he was mentoring, lived on GBP36 (US$47) a week while he was seeking asylum. With a bike provided by The Bike Project, Adam could get to doctors’ appointments, to school and to essential appointments for his asylum application.

“Asylum-seekers come to this country with nothing: many have faced persecution and torture in their country of origin," says Jem. "When they get here, they are prevented from finding employment, and forced to live on around GBP36 a week in asylum support.

“London is a city that is rich in opportunities. A bike can help these people reach the many resources that London has to offer: charities that can feed them, lawyers to aid their application process, Home Office appointments, healthcare, education and much more."