Women-Fix-It

11th May 2016 by

Working with the Otesha team to get a women’s bike maintenance project up and running has been the highlight of 2016 in my world: here’s the story:

wfiWomen-Fix-It came about whilst cycling across Portugal solo. I had the map reading down, chunky calves, panniers, and a sweet touring bike – what more can a woman ask for? Ah yeah… the knowledge that is needed to put your bike back together after it’s been in a box. Alex a good pal helped me to box it up for the flight over to Portugal. Yeah I’ll remember all this – easy…

I’m not saying that as I stand looking at my handle bars off at a peculiar angle, the brakes are rubbing on the wheel and I’m unnecessarily covered in grease. Frustrated, I begrudgingly head to the nearest bike shop, where 2 guys attempt to teach me bike basics in Portuguese. I felt pretty stupid with my ignorance, not to mention scared that I had to keep the steed in one piece for the next 3 months. I couldn’t but notice that it was always men serving me in bike shops, or I’d likely ask a male friend to help out with bike related stuff. Pedalling up and whizzing down the mountains of Portugal I was lucky to keep my bike in one piece – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head as to why I didn’t know to fix her up.

The more I discussed this with other women who liked bikes, it became clear that I wasn’t on my own… reverberations of the same comment kept coming back to me: “I feel uncomfortable to ask stupid questions” “I always feel pretty silly when I go into bike shops” “I wish I knew more about bikes” “I’m just not very good at it”.

I felt happy that it wasn’t just me… but also sad that so many strong, independent women that I knew and loved had the same block as me. I wanted to learn with other women and to be taught by a non-judgemental woman who could share her knowledge. I searched around my local area in South London and struggled to find that space, but alas it was not there.

A friend put me in touch with Bikeworks – a fantastic social enterprise delivering community based cycling activities across London. They took me onto a course in Level 1 bike mechanics and I commenced a journey totally out of my comfort zone… loads of tools, jargon, and a good dose of testosterone. I was feeling the need for Women-fix-It in my life.

It seems fitting that this project is a collaboration with The Otesha Project UK, as it was this wonderful charity that has empowered hundreds of young people to cycle hundreds of miles and educate thousands of people in issues of environmental awareness, sustainability and social justice. As tour alumni, tour coordinator and workshop facilitator with Otesha, It felt like the right time to join forces to run Women-Fix-It. Winning a bid to Transport for London’s Cycling Grants, the project finally got legs.

Camberwell Subterranea offered us their garage workshop for us to run 3 week maintenance courses from Feb-June 2016. The project aims to work with women from diverse backgrounds, bringing together women from all over South London. It is important that it’s a safe and comfortable environment for all to enter into. We’ve run 3 courses so far, working with 27 women to teach them the basics – an m-check, parts of the bike and how they fit together, punctures, brakes and cleaning/ general maintenance.

wfi1The essence of the project is that we want women to go away with enough skills to keep their bike safely on the road. If it needs to go into a bike shop, then they might have a better idea of what’s going on. We want women to feel empowered to ask those “stupid” questions that we might not normally ask. Courses will continue until June and we’re running women’s social rides around South London this summer.

Fancy finding out more, or want to be involved?

Check for updates on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenfixit/

Alumni Spotlight: Harley

14th March 2014 by

Everyone who goes on a cycle tour, joins our green jobs training programme, or comes to us for support to set up their own project becomes part of our alumni network. We send them weekly updates, filled with  green, world-changing jobs, interesting volunteering opportunities and events, a bit of Otesha news, and something to make them smile! Basically, we like to keep in touch, find out what they’re up to and support them however we can. Here’s a little spotlight on one of our wonderful alumni!

1. Which Otesha tour did you go on?

Tastetastic 2012 – Scotlaaaand!

2. What were you100_5861r tour highs and lows?

Highs - Too many to mention but I really loved our time at Broomhill community garden in Burntisland with Elly and the founders of Fife Diet. Our first day working out in the sunshine and meeting some very dedicated and inspiring people.

Lows - Having to jump on a train on our first proper day cycling… my knee was not up for it and I was worried that was me done for the tour I’d been so excited about. (With a couple of days rest it was fine and I lived to tell the tale!)

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3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

After the tour I moved back to Newcastle and have been living up there until very recently. Living with an incredible bunch, cooking and eating tonnes of big communal veggie delights. Enjoying the beaut that is Northumberland, cycling, learning lots about growing veg, taking kids on farm tours and making them taste new things! Getting dirty growing and selling tasty veggies, dancing, adventuring and planning exciting things for the future!

4. Tell us a bit more about Food Nation…

For the past year I’ve been working on a number of projects for an organisation called Food Nation. They are a social enterprise based in the East End of Newcastle that aim to inspire people about good food. This varies from cookery classes for all ages/abilities, outreach at a number of schools, community centres, universities and events. They also have an allotment where they run a few programmes for local schools to visit and engage with gardening, food growing, cooking and tasting! They are also linked to Food Newcastle which has been set up to improve some of the food systems in Newcastle by setting up a Food Charter – read more here. It’s been a pleasure to work on such a range of food related initiatives with them and I recommend checking them out!

SONY DSC5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

I was lucky enough to get onto the tour just after graduating and I think Otesha has given me a fundamental backbone of inspiration, knowledge and positivity. Learning so much more about FOOD and confirming my desire to GET INVOLVED. Falling in love with cycling. Friends! (I met the most brilliant of humans!) Feeling part of a powerful network of individuals from all over the world. Despite not living in London I have still felt supported by Otesha and looking forward to getting more involved when in London. It’s confirmed my view that by creating an enthusiastic and inspiring example (by DOing), others will feel encouraged to join in and get involved themselves. Also, by educating people with a fun and playful approach, it can be a much more influential way of changing the habits of individuals.…… I am also a lot less scared of standing in front of a class of children which has come in handy!

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?100_5617

Only a fan from afar but hopefully this will change now I’m a little closer!

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Don’t bother with those ‘waterproof’ socks… They don’t really work.

Just get ready to have a wonderfully fun and productive time, meet glorious people and learn loads!

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, or an action?

GO! GO! GO!

Freewheelin’

6th August 2013 by
Our penultimate official Tour Cycling Day took us from Namayasai Japanese salad farm over rolling Sussex hills to Kent, and CommonWork educational organic farm. Embarking on our longest – and most undulating – cycling day yet, we left behind the early morning salad pickers. and sailing through Cooksbridge, we saluted Hamsey School who had received our workshops the previous day. Tristan, Thomas and I were gifted with orange squash in a church in the very posh Nutley, before crawling up some fearsome hills, on through beautiful Fletching – apparently the best kept village in Sussex! – and upto Ashdown Forest. Some roadies from Sussex Nomads wished us well and congratulated our sweating efforts as we laboured over our panniers – and Tristan’s trailer – and they whizzed up another treacherous hill en route to Ashdown Forest. This area is moorland and woods, with ubiquitous sheep nestling in their shadows from the sun we couldn’t escape from, our iron steeds strong before our glistening brows.
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After the longest downhill I have ever had the freewheelin’ (I have been an avid fixed-wheel cyclist for 6 months) joy to descend, Hartfield village received us with a short stop off at Pooh Corner, and the cheeriest, most delightfully friendly waitress ever took our picture outside this slice of British literary history – the birthplace of A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. Apparently we’d whizzed past 100 Acre Wood and the location of the original Pooh sticks! Winding undulating folds of countryside and villages took us through rabbit-warrens of roads under shafts of light filtering through lime green leaves, swollen from the last night’s rain shower. Our tranquility was unfortunately all too often momentarily ruined by a cement mixer or too-large land cruiser. We dinged our bells in celebration when we were alone on the road!
Making good time (certainly up on our 6 miles per 2 hours on the Chichester cycling day), we decided to detour to Hever Castle, but were denied free or even discounted entry so instead settled for a pleasant luncheon under another generous oak tree. Another churchyard bequeathed unto us water-based sustenance, and a quick wee stop in the bushes led to me find some piglets sleeping in their woodland pen.
Arriving before the other cycling groups, we pounced with gay abandon on CommonWork’s phenomenally clean – and warm! – showers. After hosing down in a corner of Tupenny Barn’s vegetable bed and no showers for several days it felt like having new skin! No longer olfactorially offensive, we were given a mini guided tour by the lovely Jacquelyn, director of CommonWork, who explained the founders’ vision of interconnectedness and harmonised working, theorised before the term sustainability came into frequent use. CommonWork unites the head, heart and hands in experiential learning in the fields with horticulture, in the kitchen and seeing the organic dairy farm at work. Otesha Totally Tasty tour 2k13 loves this holistic view of education and learning!
After lentils (Turkish) stew and pasta (italian) dinner, Imogen, Amy, Jessie and I had a singsong to lull the over tour members to sleep, we really need to make a Tour songbook!
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A restful sleep is cut short by a 6am alarm heralding time to milk the organic herd with the lovely Martin, who instructs us how to iodine dip the cows udders, operate the suction equipment and avoid being drenched in poo and milk! He explains the dry period cycles of the cows and how the suction apparatus emulates a calf’s sucking on the teat. Many litres of milk later, we wash our poo-y clothes and gobble organic eggs, before weeding fat hen from in between the raspberries in the kitchen garden. Cooking the communal dinner for the tour + 8 guests requires all hands on deck! Jessie, Amy, Thomas and I go on the Bore Place woodland walk to take in some of this beautiful 500 acre estate, Jessie barefoot for authenticity, telling stories of Grandpa tree, posing as trees on tree stumps, playing blind trust games, seeing a baby fawn, discussing our personal triumphs and visions and actual tree hugging!

River hippos, summery siestas and Totally Tasty food.. notes from the Training week!

26th July 2013 by

It’s two weeks today since Sam, Iona, Catherine and Andy left us to fend for ourselves after training week, so really past time to post a blog about those five rich days.

From beginning as a group of almost total strangers on the Friday night (with Ana joining us midday Saturday following timely bike drama) we had come together with much laughter, shared food, and learning.

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We were inspired by Highbridge Community Farm, their model of community growing, friendliness and the productivity of their fields. We were also glad of the chance to help out with weeding – a great accompaniment to interesting conversation.

Games were a key part of training week, to get to know each other, energise, break out of our comfort zones – and to add to our toolkits for working with young people. Hug Tag, Monsters and Lovers, Hug Murder and the Vegetable Name Game were particularly remembered. We also sang many songs together, with one particular night of rounds to set the tone for singing to come.

A lot of time was given to practical tour prep – learning workshops, consensus decision making and bike maintenance as well immersing ourselves in why we were there, our stories, motivations and tour goals. Putting together small sketches as part of the workshop learning share process was hilarious and ultimately very useful, as from these we created a play for school assemblies whilst on tour. We decided on our food mandate, a long process that put the group’s consensus skills to work. We only finished it in Southampton – To shop from within Europe, organically if possible, with minimal packaging. We would be vegan, except sometimes would buy eggs if they were from very local and happy hens.

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It was the start of the heatwave, hot enough to burst one of our trailer tyres (unladen!) and making swimming in the nearby river during our mid-day breaks/siesta an enduring highlight. This included mud bathing /exfoliation. To quote Jessie “I’m a hippo!”

Our last day worked around a visit by The Media Trust who were making a short film about Otesha. They occasionally pinched people for interviews and gave us a great chance to ride our bikes around the field ringing our bells. We finished that day though with great jubilation, completing a treasure hunt, that invited us to banquet and demanded we dress to impress… We feasted on samosas, two curries and a banana dessert before closing our eyes to receive our little envelopes, full of warm fuzzies, our Otesha T-shirts and our bells – ready to ‘Saddle up and change the world!’

Thanks Sam and Iona for all the enthusiasm, support and hard work guiding us through those days, and Catherine and Andy for keeping us full of delicious food. Also thanks to Peter Hansford Cycles in Eastleigh for their support with Ana’s bike!

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Working the Workshops with Totally Tasty

22nd July 2013 by

I am lying in Lynn’s garden hammock looking out at the massive oak tree in the park next door. “You look extremely happy”, Jessie says as she walked past. I am a bit. I feel really enriched after everything I have experienced and taken part in today. This morning we woke up at 6.37am. All ten of the Otesha tour members were sleeping in the Rope Walk Permaculture Project’s garden shed just behind a mosque.Yesterday was our first day on the road and today we were introduced to the world of environmental and social workshop facilitation.

This morning we cycled to a local school to spend the morning at the, maybe paradoxically named, “inclusion unit”. It was for children who had been deemed not adapted to be within a conventional class room. The average number of children in these inclusion classes were between four and six. Students would stay on a single floor on which all of their needs were catered for. All their subjects, tutors and even lunch was provided on this level. The teachers were all amazing and it I think we learnt much from seeing how they spoke to and engaged the students. While one team delivered another workshop, my group was presenting a workshop on Fair-Trade which looks at all the different people involved in the production on bananas; from the logger who has to clear-cut his beloved rainforest to earn enough money to get by, all the way to the consumer in the UK.

Later that day, I was shown a feedback sheet with Alex, one of the students had written after the class but had seemed one of the hardest to engage. In it he  recalled with great detail several of the facts concerning fair-trade and gave many interesting suggestions for how we could improve the workshop. In the second group, also four students, was one girl who was full of enthusiasm, excitement and charisma. We had one who wanted to read many of the character cards describing what each person in the supply chain has to do. After each card she would give a particularly conscience summary of what had just been said and apply it to examples she was familiar with as well as explaining it within the greater whole of the exercise. After class, the teacher, told us this student was normally the most introverted and shyest member of the class. He had never seen her as enthusiastic and engaged as she was. We felt we had been of use and that our presence at the school was being appreciated.

The last workshop was the one I thought was most successful. The four boys in the class seemed genuinely interested in what we were talking about and shared their knowledge about pesticides and GMOs. Later in the day, we discovered that this last group we had worked with were reputed to be the most difficult to engage with. Quite a result, we told ourselves.

After some not-so-vegan egg and cheese sandwiches the school kindly provided, we headed back over to Southampton Common [we had cooked an epic dinner for ourselves there the night before] to meet a home education group. These were children who were educated by their parents or grandparents and all met up on a regular basis so as to learn and play with their kin. These children take an active role in deciding what it is they are most interested in and would like to learn more of. “I drive my grand-daughter around 200 miles a week so she can receive lesson from all the specialist teachers in the region” one parent told us. The children now in front of us couldn’t have been more dissimilar from the ones we had spent time with that morning. Surrounded by supportive, reassuring parents, they spoke, read and posed questions with clarity, self-assurance and calm. At one point when talking about the distribution of money amongst the different actors on the supply line, they took the debate completely into their own hands and we  no longer needed to facilitate and actually stepped back and watched (slightly in awe) as children of six and seven discussed who in the supply line deserved the most pay. This seemed like a million miles away from the disheartened students we had met earlier that same day.

Personally, I felt greatly privileged and enriched to have had the opportunity to experience these two polar opposite worlds. We had witnessed first hand how socio-economic segregation is passed on from one generation to the next as a result of systemic causes within our society. These skills and experiences are fantastic to get, and the whole team is developing in leaps and bounds ready for all the schools we have ahead. Thomas

Totally Tasty’s first taste of touring!

17th July 2013 by

At half past eleven on Thursday morning, the first cycling group rolled out from Highbridge Farm, towing Candy  the cooking trailer (named after our training week cooks, Catherine and Andy) soon followed by the second and third groups. We were only half an hour later than our aspirational/ non- negotiable 11 o’clock departure time. The sun shone and there was still a coolness to the air as we headed south down the start of road, shaded by the hedgerows. There was a shared sense of elation, of finally being on the road, the tour being underway. We had woken early, with tidying and packing to do, our group and personal belongings scattered freely across the field.

Our first ride was short, 7.5 miles to Southampton common (a site of special scientific interest) to meet for lunch by the fabled model boating lake (there were no model boats being sailed). This didn’t stop each group from getting lost as we traversed the boundary from the countryside into the city. Our route crossed the M3, and one after the other the cycling teams took the wrong turn down, to the round about entering the M3! We made it

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though, the joy of riding again not beaten by busier than ideal roads and wrong turns.

A brief picnic salad (a learning curve on the appetite of a tourer vs training weeker) and we were off again to Green Space community garden, were we met Felicity, Otesha alumni of Wild West fame. We built a bug hotel, a stack of pallets, with the gaps stuffed with rolled card and newspaper, straw, grass clippings, pinecones, flower pots to encourage solitary bees, different pits of stick and wood. By providing habitat this will encourage a diversity of invertebrate life into the garden.

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Thank you Felicity for the fresh dug potatoes, the nasturtium, sorrel, beet leaves, parsley, lavender, and fennel, they made our dinner! We ate that night in the common, a feast of fried potatoes, curried beans and vegetables and beautiful salad, prepared together, with lots of laughter mixed in for extra flavour. The sun went down and we burst into song and more laughter, before riding to Ropewalk, our base for the next few days. A cluster of day-glo yellow, shining reflectors and flashing lights, we happily rolled through the dark, quiet streets. Craig, our generous, enthusiastic host, met us and settled us in. We slept in the shed, a line of sardines amongst the spades and rakes, with Tristan stretched outside in a hammock. Friday came, our first day of workshops. We ran through the workshops quickly before leaving, on time, at 8 am…

We challenge you to have a staycation

1st July 2013 by

So summer is upon us and the holiday season is quickly approaching.  We understand the importance of taking a break and acknowledge that Europe is at our doorstep but we challenge you to ditch the foreign holiday and try a staycation.

British-Flag-in-a-SandcastleA staycation is a holiday spent in the UK, often close to home. Why do we challenge you with this? We believe there are multiple benefits. Going on a staycation will save you money, help your local economy, is more eco friendly, less stressful, and ultimately you get more time relaxing instead of travelling. If you have a think about it, the UK has an incredible amount to offer from surfing, white water rafting, canyoning, camping (or glamping for those recoiling at the idea), foreign food cooking courses, wine tours (there are actually more than 400 vineyards in the UK), the National Trust holiday volunteering, and WWOOFING.

Try it out, and let us know how it goes. Or have you already had brilliant staycations? Let us know.

It’s coming straight for us! It probably smelt the wallet in your pocket.

20th March 2013 by

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Click the image to enlarge. More cartoons here.

The brain, the bike and the fighter pilot: January’s monthly challenge

1st January 2013 by

Recently I read what was probably one of the most important and fascinating articles I’ve seen on how cyclists can keep safe on the roads. You can read the whole piece here – but, in short, it tells us something very important: that when drivers tell us cyclists ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you there’ after a near-miss, they are most likely telling the truth. Knowing this, and knowing why it’s true, will make your beloved bike journey much safer.

The London Cyclist blog talked to a regular cyclist who also happens to be an RAF pilot and crash investigator, and this is what he had to say:

  • Our eyes have evolved to spot predators creeping up on us but not, crucially, objects hurtling at speed, especially relatively small objects like cyclists
  • Only when we look directly at something can we register a high-resolution image of it
  • Our brains create a whole-spectrum vision of a scene by filling in detail it assumes is there but may miss crucial details – like a nearby cyclist, which our eyes can easily ‘jump over’

Crucially, in many cases this means your near-miss was not the result of careless driving but of aeons-old hard-wiring in the human brain, regardless of how much, in that moment, we want to demonise the driver.

The blog ends with some advice on how to compensate for these limitations of our poor human brains – first for drivers, then for cyclists and motorcyclists.  So your monthly challenge for this year is, if you are a cyclist, to do the following:

  • Wear high-contrast clothing – this will attract the driver’s vision and help them to see you
  • Take your cue from the driver’s head – did they sweep their gaze right across you?
  • Don’t crawl alongside the kerb – take a safe position further out in the road
  • Send us pictures of yourself in your loudest high-contrast cycling gear!

So now I’ve got the perfect excuse for getting some lurid stripey knee socks – join me!

Speak out against unfair fare rises

19th December 2012 by

In early December the Chancellor axed a planned 3p fuel duty rise for individuals buying petrol and diesel for their cars. Working on the assumption that people couldn’t afford to pay more for private transport in a difficult economic climate, George Osborne gave up the potential tax revenue from private transport and made cuts elsewhere to fund his generosity to drivers.

So if it’s already too expensive for people to travel to work you’d expect that we’d see a similar freeze in train fares – or even a reduction as public transportation is better for the environment? Nope. Despite the fact that train fares are rising three times faster than wages, this January will see a shocking 4.2% increase in rail prices.

4.2%! I commute from Brighton to London and my weekly train pass costs me £87 – that’ll go up to £91 per week, an extra £208 per year. Honestly it’s getting to the stage where I can barely afford to commute and I work for a Living Wage employer – imagine the extra pressure this exerts upon people on minimum wage or those using their wage to support a family.

So I was pleased to hear that the Alliance for Jobs and Climate are organising ten protests in rail stations around England on Wednesday 2nd January under the banner of the Together for Transport campaign. I’ll be heading down to the Brighton protest and Tamsin will be rocking the London King’s Cross protest. If you fancy joining us (or maybe joining groups in places like Bristol, Newcastle or York?) drop us a line or email alliance@jobsandclimate.org.

Let’s put pressure on the Government to axe a fares increase which will force people into polluting cars!


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