Our Welcome Wheels project supports refugees and people seeking asylum in Portsmouth with free cycles, road safety training and cycling equipment. Jacqueline, who came to the UK seeking asylum, is just one of almost 90 people who have benefitted from a bike thanks to our project.
Jacqueline said thanks to her free bike she feels more confident, healthier and more connected and at home in Portsmouth. Credit: J Bewley
Navigating the city for free
Our Welcome Wheels project supports refugees and people seeking asylum in Portsmouth with free cycles, road safety training and cycling equipment.
So far, Welcome Wheels has supported almost 90 individuals with the equipment and skills which enable them to be better connected to learning and volunteering opportunities – allowing them to feel more integrated in their community.
The project is part of the Action Asylum pilot which connects asylum seekers with communities.
This allows them to volunteer together to improve their neighbourhood, the environment and their own wellbeing.
Having access to a bike not only opens up a world of opportunities, but has many benefits to both mental and physical health.
Jacqueline's story is a great example of this. In this blog, she explains the impact Welcome Wheels has had on her life.
"My bike gives me the freedom to do everything I want to do"
Jacqueline, who came to the UK seeking asylum from El Salvador with her parents and younger brother, was moved from London to Portsmouth - a city where they knew no one.
She explored the city by walking as public transport was not an affordable option for her.
That was until Jacqueline was provided a bike by Sustrans’ Welcome Wheels project, which gave her a key to freedom.
Cycling has not only allowed her to navigate the city safely and for free, but has given her opportunities to learn, meet people and to make a positive difference in her local community. She explained:
“My bike gives me the freedom to do everything I want to do. I couldn’t manage without it.
“Before, I had no choice, I had to walk everywhere.
“Buses and trains were too expensive. I’d just walk and walk and walk.
“Sometimes I’d have volunteering in the morning and my English class at 1pm and I didn’t have enough time to get between them.
“And walking on my own at night didn’t feel safe.
“If someone was coming towards me on a dark street, I would feel scared.
“I was missing out on things because I didn’t have enough time or couldn’t get to places safely.”
Jacqueline, who now volunteers with Sustrans, is a talented musician with an ambition to find a music-related job in the future.
Being able to make journeys all over Portsmouth by bike is helping her to juggle all the things she needs to do to make this dream a reality.
“I go to college to learn English and play the flute in an orchestra at the university and at church. There are lots of evening practices.
“I also volunteer, helping out at Sustrans events and with community gardening.
“The bike from Welcome Wheels has made it possible for me to do all these things.”
“My bike gives me the freedom to do everything I want to do. I couldn’t manage without it." Credit: J Bewley
“As well as the bike, Welcome Wheels gave me things like a helmet, reflective jacket and bike lights.
“The road safety training was very important to me.
“I knew how to ride a bike, but in El Salvador everything is very different. We drive on the other side of the road.
“It taught me about safe bike routes. There’s nothing like this back home.
“I wouldn’t have known what they were or how to use them.
“I learnt how to wear a helmet properly and to use my bike lights so people can see me when it’s dark.
“I did find it scary at first having to cycle next to big buses, but the training really helped me to feel confident on busy roads.
“As soon as I got my bike I felt more independent, especially at night.
“In the dark, I feel much safer on my bike than walking on my own. My bike is my friend.
“I cycle everywhere. It’s so much easier to get around now.”
Feeling healthier, more connected and at home
Jacqueline said thanks to her free bike she feels more confident, healthier and more connected and at home in Portsmouth. She said:
“Being out on my bike makes me feel good and I have more energy.
“I love going cycling with my family at weekends.
“We ride to places like the Hilsea Lines, which I found out about through Sustrans.
“Being out there gives me a break from everything in the week.
“Some of my friends have also had bikes from Welcome Wheels, and we all feel cycling gives us freedom to see each other.
“We can meet up in the evening without worrying about how we will get home.
“Doing all the activities I do all over the city and talking to new people means my English is getting much better. That helps me feel more at home here.
“I feel like Portsmouth is my home now.
“I want to say a big thank you to Sustrans. If it wasn’t for their help, I couldn’t live where I live and do what I do.
“Everything I have done with them makes me more confident.”
Cycling has not only allowed Jacqueline to navigate the city safely and for free, but has given her opportunities to learn, meet people and to make a positive difference in her local community. Credit: J Bewley
Connecting refugees and people seeking asylum with their communities
Jennifer Jones, Liveable Cities and Towns Coordinator at Sustrans, said:
"It has been such a pleasure being part of the Welcome Wheels team.
"We know that having a bike means so much to people, whether it's being able to access volunteering across the city, getting to English classes, or accessing legal services and healthcare.
"Other people have told us it helps their mental health, and riding a bike makes them feel safe and free.
"What a thing to be able give someone.
"It's not easy being a stranger in a new city, and I'm so grateful to live in a community where so many people happily give their time and skills to make others feel welcome.
"Thanks to Southsea Cycles and to Adrian Saunders (Top Banana Cycling) who has delivered all of the road safety sessions for us - we couldn't do it without them."
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
We also spoke to Mustafa, another person who has benefitted from Welcome Wheels, about how his bike is now his main form of transport.
With his free cycle he's able to get to his volunteering activities and to meet his friends.
How to get involved
If you live in or near Portsmouth and have a cycle in decent condition 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 or someone seeking asylum in the city.
If you would like to join the scheme, or get involved in a different way, you can visit Portsmouth City of Sanctuary's website to find out more.
Or you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate, you can contact Jennifer at her email address: email@example.com.
A donation of £65 covers the costs of a bike, lights, a helmet and a hi-vis jacket for one person.