Life for Mustafa changed for the better when he was provided a free cycle as part of Sustrans' Welcome Wheels project. Having a bike has allowed him to access more volunteering opportunities, and has helped him feel integrated into his local community.
Mustafa, who is an asylum seeker from Turkey, has been supported by Welcome Wheels with a bike and a free road safety course. Credit: Action Asylum Portsmouth
Sustrans' Welcome Wheels project exists to provide cycles, cycling equipment and road safety training to people seeking asylum and refugees.
Having access to a cycle helps people to access learning and volunteering opportunities.
It also improves mental and physical wellbeing, and can help people to be more social too.
For a large majority of those seeking asylum in the UK, before they are granted refugee status, they do not have the right to work in paid employment.
This is unless their job is on the ‘Shortage Occupation List’, or if they were in the UK on a student visa when they submitted their asylum claim.
Despite not being able to work, while waiting to hear back on their asylum claim, they can volunteer.
Providing free cycles to refugees and those seeking asylum
Welcome Wheels is part of the Action Asylum pilot which connects those seeking asylum with local communities.
This allows people to volunteer together to improve their neighbourhood and the environment, while also boosting the wellbeing of the individual.
Since Welcome Wheels, based in Portsmouth, was launched two years ago, it has provided over 70 migrants with donated cycles.
In this blog, we hear from Mustafa who came to the UK seeking asylum in June 2022.
Mustafa, who is from Turkey, benefitted from a free cycle and safety course as part of the project.
His bike is now his main form of transport, and he uses it to get to his volunteering activities and to meet his friends.
Improving independence and fitness
Soon after Mustafa moved to Portsmouth, he received support from Welcome Wheels which changed his life for the better. Mustafa said:
“I didn’t know anyone when I got here.
“I needed to improve my English and wanted to connect better with people.
“Action Asylum and Welcome Wheels have helped me to do that.
“Welcome Wheels helped me by giving me a bicycle.
“I also did a road safety course and got a helmet and a jacket for my cycling.
“The rules for cycling are the same as in my country but the traffic is the opposite way in the UK.
“That was a challenge for me, so the road safety course was very useful.
“Cycling gives me good exercise every week.
“I use my bicycle five times a week generally. I feel healthier now.
“Before I had to walk everywhere, sometimes I used a bus.
“But one way bus travel is £2 so I can only afford to use a bus two times and the £9 pocket money I have for the week is finished.
“Now it is much easier to get to places.”
For those seeking asylum in the UK, a person receives £9.10 per week to live on if they are housed in a hotel, with three meals a day provided.
This is compared to £45 per week to live on if someone is placed in a council house.
My bike has given me access to volunteering and social opportunities
Through Action Asylum and Portsmouth City of Sanctuary, Mustafa takes part in a lot of volunteering.
“I help elderly people at their allotments, for gardening and fixing things. I also do tree planting.
“The bicycle is my main travel way now. I use it to go to volunteering and meet with my friends.
“I would like to say thank you. I am so grateful for your support and help.
“Welcome Wheels were very helpful and very kind to me."
How to get involved
If you live in or near Portsmouth and have a cycle to donate, please take it to Southsea Cycles in Albert Road, Southsea.
Staff there will refurbish it so it's ready to be given to a refugee in the city or someone seeking asylum.
If you would like to join the scheme, please visit Portsmouth City of Sanctuary's website to find out more.