How we’re building a better future with Build-A-Bike: Client stories

Julian House has two full-service Bike Workshops in Bath and Trowbridge that sell new and professional refurbished bikes, have repair and servicing facilities, E-bike sales and hire and Bike Maintenance Courses.

The Bike Workshops provide customers with reliable and excellent value bicycles and maintenance and they also create opportunities for vulnerable people to train, gain confidence and get a positive lift back into independence and employment as part of our Build-a-Bike programme. 

Build-A-Bike is a four-week course that has been developed in collaboration with our service users and is intended for people with a history of homelessness, an offending background, substance misuse or long-term unemployment.  

During the four-week course, participants work alongside a professional mechanic where they fully dismantle and rebuild a bike. Employment support is provided throughout the course and attendance and AQA qualification are awarded on completion. The added bonus is that they get to keep the bike they have worked on!  

We spoke to Ben and Geoff who have recently completed the Build-A-Bike course, these are their stories:

Ben, 17yrs old – Trowbridge 

What led me here in the first place was my anxiety issues. I’m socially awkward and find talking to people very difficult, which made school hard to deal with and affects me in lots of ways. The Building Bridges scheme recommended that I try going to Julian House bike workshop, and at first I was thinking “no way am I doing that”.  

Build-a-bike bike shopI was a bit nervous about getting involved to start with, as I didn’t really know what to expect. On my first day I met the mechanics, who were really kind and supportive and helped me pick out a bike to fix up. Before doing this, I’d never had much interest in bikes and never done anything like this before. I’m quiet and can get anxiety easily, but the team were really helpful and taught me how to take a bike apart from scratch and build it back again, after only 4 sessions.

It’s been good for my confidence, although I still find things hard it definitely helped. I got to keep the bike too, which was great. I’m still using it and now I’ve come back to volunteer at the workshop and everyone’s pleased to see me again, which is nice.

Everyone here is friendly, so even if you’re like me and have anxiety or find things hard, I would say to give it a go. I still don’t know what I want to do as a career but it’s a good first step.

Geoff, Build-a-Bike – Bath

Geoff-Porter-build-a-bike-workshop. Smiling at camera.

I was born in Bath but moved to Australia at 13 and lived most of my life there. I never really settled. I had a hair salon business that collapsed and I ended up losing everything. All my money, my flat, all my friends, everything. I sold my car and got enough money together last year to get back to the UK. Everything I had left I spent on a flight to Heathrow, then got a coach back to Bath. I felt good immediately, like I was meant to be here. In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d end up back here.  

My first night back I tried to sleep in the park near Pulteney Bridge. I found a bush which I hid out in, hoping nobody would give me any hassle. It was my first and only night rough sleeping and it was really tough. I was scared about losing the little bit of money I had. Then in the morning I asked around and found out about Julian House.

They put me up in the lounge to start with, as there were no pods available. It was hard to start with. Really hard. Lots of people were up all night and I wanted to sleep and desperately needed to catch up. In the end the staff gave me my own pod, and without the three meals a day I was getting I wouldn’t have survived. I had no money and consider myself very lucky that eventually I was able to get Universal Credit. I was in the hostel for four and half months in the end. It’s small but it’s so much better than being on the streets.  

The staff at Julian House helped me find somewhere to live in the end. Now I’m staying in another place and trying to get back on my feet. After a while I got involved with the Bike Workshop to try to Build-A-Bike. Four weeks every Tuesday. I found it fantastic! You look at a bike but you just don’t realise how much is involved in putting it together. The mechanic was there, teaching me how to dismantle it, clean it, find and assemble new parts and I got loads out of it. I’m really grateful to the staff who were all brilliant. It taught me that you’re never too old to learn new tricks.

build-a-bike shopI enjoyed it and the staff said they were quite impressed how quickly I picked it all up. There were a few others doing the workshop at the same time as me and it was good to meet a few new people. The second session was harder as I was having trouble with my mental health. But the staff just kept saying “don’t worry Geoff, just keep going and see how you feel later”. They were really supportive. I didn’t have any experience of bikes beforehand– only punctures! – and it’s a beautiful bike that I got to ride away and keep. Lots of hills in Bath though, so I’ve not ridden it as much as I should! Putting the finishing touches to it is really satisfying in that final session. 

I sometimes feel down and out and don’t really want to carry on, but I often say to myself that I must be a strong person. To be able to go through what I’ve gone through in my life and to keep trying new things and making an effort, it hard work but you’ve got to try and keep going. Having the support of Julian House really helps. I’m really glad I went there.

It’s given me a fresh perspective on how hard it is for rough sleepers too – and being in the hostel helped me understand about addiction and how quickly you can go from the top to the bottom. I don’t drink or do drugs but I do struggle with my mental health and I’m doing this sober. So putting one foot in front of the other and trying to keep going is really important.

Everyone should do the Build A Bike Workshop, I really recommend it. I even got a certificate which will help me get some work in the future hopefully.

With your generous help we can continue to support people like Ben and Geoff.