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The bottom line: Oiling the chain through community engagement

13 January 2010

Experiences Dan Harris had while working on a bicycle recycling project teaching prisoners cycle maintenance skills formed the foundation of Oxford Cycle Workshop Training and its passion for giving young people a place in their community

I knew from the outset that Oxford Cycle Workshop Training had to place the community it served at its heart.

With that in mind the obvious choice was to set up as a community owned co-operative to support our aim of building training programmes embedded with co-operative values.

Our vision is one of using the training delivered to serve as a bridge for young people to find their place within our organisation as active co-op members, but also to engage with other local sustainable organisations and communities.

In September 2008 we hit the ground running with three projects, each taking a slightly different approach to serving community needs. Through these projects we've learned important lessons about the value of developing community engagement for new social enterprises.

Our alternative curriculum project is called 'Oiling The Chain'. As the name suggests, initial projects have focused on using bicycles as a hook for delivering core life skills.

I'm a big fan of using bicycles as a versatile education tool. Bikes can be a vehicle for so much, from personal freedom through to developing very practical problem solving skills.

The programmes we develop are made up of quite a diverse mix of activities from cycle maintenance through to sport and on-road skills, recorded through the young people producing short films of their journeys.

The young people we work with are offered opportunities to use the skills in various roles outside the classroom, connecting with the broader community.

  • Weekly public cycle maintenance courses at OCWT's training centre offers the chance for young people to support our qualified trainers in delivering basic maintenance training and interact with adults in a very new way for them in a situation where they have a defined role.
  • Relationships with partner organisations are used to develop and reinforce skills learned outside the school environment. The Horspath Hammers cycle speedway club is a good example of this in action. The young people visit The Horspath Hammers as part of their alternative curriculum programmes, and cycle speedway skills sessions are used to break up classroom work. Cycle speedway is a fabulous way to teach co-operation and dealing with anger and aggression, and regular structured public coaching sessions allow the young people to become active members of this vibrant club outside the training environment.
  • Our new website (www.cycleoxford.coop) offers young people the opportunity to take the film making element of the alternative curriculum programmes and feed short films of their experiences into the strong online community of fellow co-operative members.

But what have we learned about engaging with a community in setting up sustainable social enterprises?

I've been regularly reminded of a saying I was told as a kid about daring to be a Daniel, and daring to make your dreams known. I think the biggest lesson for me has been about sharing your vision as you prepare to set up a venture.

Finding support form our local community has allowed us to achieve so much more over the last 12 months without us feeling our growth is unsustainable.

Oxford Cycle Workshop Training is currently looking for an additional full time member of staff to deliver and continue to develop the training they are creating.

If you are interested in this or any element of what you've read please contact Dan at dan@ocwt.coop