Published: 10th JANUARY 2023

Cycle training leads to a new career path for volunteer Monica

It’s been more than a decade since Monica Downey decided to volunteer. To say it’s been life-changing is an understatement. She now oversees a team bringing abandoned bikes back from landfill through her own Life Cycles project.

A woman with dark hair and blue top is holding a silver award.

Monica Downey has been recognised for all her volunteer work over many years.

Life Cycles is a Zero Waste North West initiative, which works in partnership with us at the Active Travel Centre based at the North West Transport Hub in Derry-Londonderry.

Monica has acquired a vast knowledge of bike skills through her own volunteering and a Velotech qualification supported by the North West Greenway Network and RE:imagine volunteering initiative.

She is passing this knowledge on to others, using space and tools provided by Translink.

She also wants to share her passion for cycling and see others take it up so active travel can flourish on the beautiful greenways around the River Foyle.


Becoming more involved with cycling

Monica said: “I got the chance to do some cycle training when I worked at Derry Well Women and it progressed from there. I eventually gave up my job as creche coordinator to become a part-time childminder and become more involved with cycling.

“Volunteer Development Coordinator, Rachael Ludlow-Williams has been such a support in helping me get my ideas off the ground and become a reality.

“She brought me to Belfast to show me around a couple of other projects which were working along the same lines as I wanted to in terms of upcycling bikes for re-sale and carrying out repairs and training.

“They gave me something to aspire to and I then was able to link in with Zero Waste North West, a bigger grassroots voluntary organisation which was able to set up meetings with Derry City and Strabane District Council.

"I needed to build a relationship with the council so we could access the bikes being dumped at Pennyburn Recycling Centre."


Permanent bike drop-off point

“It took a long time but eventually council gave us a pilot for a week to redirect bikes to a drop-off point, and it actually fell in Bike Week 2020.

"It was such a success that there’s now a permanent bike drop-off point at the recycling centre.”

With the demand for bicycles exploding during the first lockdown, Monica was well-placed to share her skills and expertise in getting people back on their bikes.

She added:I also had a desire for people to be able to maintain their own bikes and the need was definitely there so in collaboration with North West Greenways Officer, Cat Brogan, I applied for funding from the RE:imagine pot to train six people in Velotech bike maintenance.”

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I was passionate about the idea of saving bikes from landfill. Blockquote quotation marks
Monica Downey

Monica’s dedication has paid dividends. Life Cycles is thriving at its new home at the Derry Active Travel Centre, working in partnership with our staff and their activities.

She said: “I was just passionate about this idea of saving bikes from landfill and fixing them up so they could be used for years to come. I had a vision and I just knew I could do it, but I needed the right people on board.

“Rachael and Cat both had so much input in so many things, including the training and conducting a survey."


Reaching the wider community

Reaching out to the wider community, Life Cycles is now providing bike mechanics and cycle skills to:

  • local community groups,
  • community projects through the Western Health and Social Care Trust, and
  • a local boys’ secondary school.

They have also been working in partnership with the North West Regional College, which is now providing a City & Guilds course in Bike Mechanics to the wider community.

Three women standing outside, one is wearing a gold Mayor's chain.

Monica Downey (left) and North West Greenways Network active travel officer Cat Brogan (right) at the official launch of the Derry Active Travel Centre with the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor Sandra Duffy.

Contact our Volunteer Development Co-ordinator to find out more about volunteering opportunities in Northern Ireland.


Learn more about the North West Greenway Network in Derry~Londonderry and Donegal.

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