Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, SocialEarth, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens...
Bikeworks: One of the UK's Best Young Social Enterprises
This year, for the first time ever, the London Business Awards included a social enterprise category. The winner, announced on Wednesday, November 24, was Bikeworks, which also won the award for best environmental business in 2009. Bikeworks promotes sustainable urban transport with cycling in order to tackle environmental, social, and economic challenges throughout London. Bikeworks has focused its efforts on run down areas in east London, where the company's employment and training opportunities have the greatest social benefit.
Bikeworks, which was constituted in November 2006 and began trading in March 2007, was the brainchild of Jim Blakemore and Zoe Portlock. Blakemore, a new arrival to London, was eager to start a bike company, having been the owner of a private bicycle hire company when he lived in Cambridge. Portlock was in the process of completing a degree in Social Enterprise at the University of East London. Using their combined expertise, the two created the idea for a social enterprise that would encourage more people to ride bikes in East London. With a combined £10,000 from Bromley-by-Bow Centre and the London Cycling Campaign, the two entrepreneurs purchased bikes and started to provide bicycle training to young autistic children in Hackney.
Among its many socially oriented initiatives is the Cycle into Work program, which provides training in bicycle mechanics and cycling instruction to east London's homeless. Many participants in the program go on to find full-time employment elsewhere, and one of the graduates established himself as a self-employed bicycle trainer based in South London. The graduate has taken on two former Bikeworks trainees to help with the business.
Bikeworks, which generates revenue through contracts with local authorizes, third sector organizations, corporate clients, and the sale of refurbished bikes, is growing at a steady rate. "Three years ago," said Blakemore, "it was just me and now there's ten people we've employed plus x amount of freelance people employed plus x amount of beneficiaries coming through." Recently, the company has made small steps to scale its model - it opened up a second Bikeworks cycling hub in Kensignton & Chelsea. On receiving the award, Dave Miller, Co-Director at Bikeworks, said "we are delighted at the recognition for Bikeworks as we look to expand our successful community cycling hub model into other areas of London in the next couple of years."
Blakemore intends to open up hubs all over London during the coming years. Blakemore credits perseverance to the success of the social enterprise: "If you believe in what you do, just push ahead," he said. "If you believe you can make a success of something then go ahead and do it. And if you get knocked back, just keep going forward."
Bikeworks was also recognized as the "best new social enterprise in the UK 2009" at the social enterprise awards, which are sponsored by The Social Enterprise coalition and Office of the Third Sector. If you would like to learn more, visit Bikeworks' contact page.