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!)


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?


Alumni Spotlight: Amazing Abby

28th February 2013 by

bike scrapOur cycle tours have a huge, many would say life-changing, impact on those who take part.  They turn peoples lives upside down, inside out, shake them all about in a way that no one expected when we did our first tour in 2008.  Since then over 100 young people have joined our sustainable summer cycling adventures and thousands more have been inspired to make our world greener fairer and basically, much cooler for all of us.  We want to celebrate our alumni because they make Otesha what it is.  Not a week goes by when we’re not blown away by a past tour member doing something awesome.  So we’ve started an ‘Alumni Spotlight'; each month we’re going to shine our (green powered) spotlight on an alumni to showcase to the world how great they are.  First up it’s Abby Nicol.

OTESHA: What tour did you go on

Wild West 2008 around Wales and Caledonian Road 2009 as a tour liaison

OTESHA: What were your tour highs and lows?


Swimming in stormy seas below rainbows on a huge white sandy beach all to ourselves in the Gower peninsula in Wales, ah hoc spontaneous street performances of the play, storming a bank in Carmarthen demanding (in song) to see their ‘ethical policy, collectively building a bicycle at a scrap shop, re-learning how to knit, bed time stories from a magical Welsh Story teller,  tea and cake stops in many picturesque villages, superhero days, reading poems around a tree filled with bike lights in Chai Ovna cafe in Glasgow, evening circles in a hand painted yurt in Moniave, meeting people behind inspiring projects- Magpie’s Nest in Govan, Greener Kirkcaldy, campaigning against open cast coal mining in Merthyr Tydfil and more, being impressed by school children during workshops, playing a compost bin, gaining confidence cycling on any kind of road, seeing the UK countryside from the seat of my bicycle, and on the whole meeting the bunch of mad and amazing people in my tour groups, collectively overcoming challenges, learning from each other and building a wonderful, supportive, crazy, nomadic cycling community.  

Wales was wet and soggy, a mystery illness started going around the group pouncing on an unsuspecting member each night, I was actually one of two (out of 18!) who managed to avoid it so maybe this should be one of my highs. One day we cycled 70+miles up and down Welsh hills in the incessant rain to be greeted by a leaking, smoke-filled tepee in tepee Valley where fellow oteshites were huddled around the fire eating rice flavoured with marmite crying ‘this is an emergency situation!’ Very comical looking back on it but not the welcoming to the utopian community we had envisioned. The situation was turned around when we managed to all find shelter in a cosy yurt and snuggle down listening to excerpts from Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood’.

Scotland- Deciding to adopt a porridge-only diet in Glasgow (a solidarity action with people around the word who exist on very little and so to appreciate the wealth of food we have at our finger tips) now I’m a porridge fan but our first batch for breakfast was laced with charred oats and the flavour lingered for the rest of the day, we then somehow, in a wave of blind enthusiasm, decided to opt to continue porridge-day for a second day…this was when cracks began to emerge and bellies rumble at the thought of the tasty vegan meals we’d hastily agreed to give up, cue big long consensus decision making meeting which thankfully ended merrily with us abandoning the porridge and resuming our vegan feasts.

OTESHA: Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

I got a degree then fled to the fields! well..finished uni, environmental food projects with Transition Edinburgh University, traversed Spain just me and my trusty bicycle (Beryll the Mountain Goat), wwoofed, got horticultural working on organic farms around the UK, I’m studying Organic Farming at the Scottish Agricultural College, campaigning with the Combe Haven Defenders in Hastings, working on an Organic market garden and community garden in Hastings and exploring the quirky towns of the Southeast.     

sevilla OTESHA: Tell us a bit more about Combe Haven Defenders…

Combe Haven Defenders formed in summer 2012. We are a campaign group of people local to Hastings who are part of the “Stop the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road Campaign,” – the ‘first and the worst’ of over 190 new road projects that the Government, big business & local councils are pushing throughout England and Wales.  We are campaigning for an affordable, sustainable transport system for our area, that improves the quality of all our lives without costing the earth.

The BHLR is a 3 mile road planning to devastate one of Hastings and Bexhills’ most beautiful natural treasures, the Combe Haven Valley, at a cost of £100 million and rising. The East Sussex County Council are prioritising this at a time of mass cuts to public services claiming it will alleviate congestion (when new roads mean more traffic), create jobs (the numbers of which have been grossly inflated) and housing (opening up Trinity College Cambridge’s land for development). It is a road that the Department for Transport calls ‘low value for money,’ in a report that’s been heavily redacted. In fact our next action is called: Operation Disclosure, calling the DfT to release the report’s recommendations on the BHLR to the public by 5th April or we’ll peacefully come and get them ourselves. See: combehavendefenders.org.  As the Combe Haven Defenders we’ve been behind lots of actions: organising trainings, setting up and supporting protest camps, dressing up as Zombie roads, running information stalls, fundraisers, ceilidhs, exhibitions, public meetings and more and more, it’s been a busy 6 months but there’s more to come! Sign our pledge and receive updates,  join an action, support us.  The BHLR is the first of 190 new road projects we need to nip this madness in the bud.     

OTESHA: What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

Oh in so many ways- I’d just come back from a year in Canada and had experienced many incredible things there. I was feeling a little apprehensive about returning to what in my mind was a comparatively boring UK, Otesha blew that concept away. My first tour was an eye opener into all the eco/activisty goings on on this little island- permaculture projects a plenty, transition towns, inspiring youth projects, farms, education centres, bicycle projects. It catalysed my love of bicycles, I haven’t really had a day off a bicycle since my first otesha tour and because of it took off toute seule around Spain, I couldn’t have seen myself doing that without having experienced cycle touring with Otesha. It introduced me to wonderful friends, I’m part of this vibrant community of Oteshites who share similar values, follow their interests, question and work to change the norms and narratives that are taking the world down such a destructive path at the moment. It gives me hope!! Ha!

OTESHA: Are you still involved with Otesha and how?

Yes, once an Otesha member always an Otesha member! I cycled lands end to John o groats as an otesha fundraiser. I keep up to date with otesha shenanigans through the alumni newsletter, go to events where I can and keep up with the friends I met on tour.

OTESHA: What advice would you give to new tour members?

Ooo you’re in for a treat! Take in every minute, make a tour video even, embrace the consensus meetings they will end…eventually! It is such a unique time to have pedalling, performing and skill sharing around the country, every day is so full of experiences. An Oteshite from Canada came to see our play in Edinburgh and said “I’m so jealous, you’ll be hard pressed to find something that beats your Otesha tour” and he’s right. My tours have very special places in my heart. So challenge yourself, get some waterproof socks (my practical tip) and let the Otesha adventure begin!

O moustache

OTESHA: Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, an action or video.

 Mad, challenging, hilarious.  In fact this video puts a smile on my face!


It all makes sense!

25th January 2012 by

Felicity, of our Wild West ’09 cycle tour, talks about how Otesha has influenced her & the exciting new projects she’s been inspired to work on since!

Summing up how Otesha has influenced me is actually quite hard, simply because it has, in a bigger way than I could ever have imagined.

Back in Dec ’08 I applied for the role of Tour Liaison for Otesha’s 2009 ‘Wild West’ cycle tour. In an instant I knew it was an exciting opportunity, incorporating several of my key passions: cycling, performing & environmental issues. Staring right at me was my dream project.

After a trip to London & friendly interview, they gave me the role of Tour Liaison for Wild West ’09 (a 6-week tour of Wales from June-July).  10 days later I was flying to India to volunteer for 11 weeks, including time spent with The Centre for Tribal & Rural Development, a world away from the UK & all it has to offer. This was my second trip abroad volunteering in Tribal villages, having previously done so in Costa Rica. Understanding & knowing how a community can survive with no running water or electricity is humbling; add that to the daily threat of disease, poverty & natural disasters and suddenly I can no longer complain if I break a nail!

The Wild West Tour took me to some of the most beautiful & scenic places in Wales. Starting in Machynlleth we worked our way south along the coast, finally stopping in Merthyr Tydfil, an area of high deprivation & unemployment.

My memories of Wales & The Otesha Project filled me with such a warm sense of happiness it brings a huge smile to my face writing this. For six weeks the sun shone, the hills loomed & happiness followed wherever we went. I want to say it was tough & physically demanding but if it was, I don’t remember.

I do remember all the random places we slept – barns, fields, church halls & strangers’ houses. I remember all the friendly & kind people we met who humbled & inspired us. I remember rivers, fields, forests, towns, cities & the sea. I can’t decide if seeing dolphins in Aberystwyth, coasteering off St Davids or staying on a permaculture farm was my favourite experience – in fact it all was. Even the hills.

I’ve made friends for life, seen things that will stay with me always & proved to everyone that it is possible to get a tan in Wales.

And so life goes on. After Otesha I was filled with a feeling of great satisfaction as if it all suddenly made sense & I knew what I wanted to know. My next project was with a theatre Company called ‘Stuff & Nonsense’ working as a creative assistant for their new show ‘The Enormous Turnip’.  I had another incredible experience working on this show & even to this day, the reviews keep coming in thick & fast with the latest informing us that it was Jackson’s Lane best selling Christmas show in their 35 year history.

As a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, I found myself going on yet another journey after this, although this time as ‘Youth Arts Development Manager’ for Hampshire Museums and Galleries Trust, working on a specific project called The EDGE Project; Engage, Discover, Generate, Enthusiasm.

I was chosen to lead a three year programme of events, exhibitions & performances for & by young people in various locations across Hampshire. The brief was as broad as I wanted it to be – I’m given freedom to deliver & create what young people want to do & see in these venues. I’ve hosted band nights & exhibitions, music workshops & fashion projects.

But by far my most important & biggest project to date has been GreenSpace. A couple of my young volunteers came to me with an idea to create an allotment. My ears instantly pricked up with excitement as I knew the idea had room to grow (excuse the pun!).  I approached a local Art Gallery I was working with & GreenSpace was born.

November 2010 saw our first day on site clearing an area covered in brambles at the back of the venue. 26 people turned up to help the first day. After that it was planning & implementing the next stage.

The young people designed it to look as creative as possible, as well as having full disabled access & being practical. Donations were sought from all over the local area, including 32 planks, 20 tons of soil, various plants, child friendly wood chip & 2 compost bins. Subsequent donations saw us add to site with water butts, as well as being able to purchase tools for volunteers.

Over the course of 2010 we engaged with around 300+ people. We ran maintenance days, planting days, green workshops for children & young people. We had an extensive launch & registered as part of the Eden Project’s Big Lunch-with every event operating a ‘Bring n’ Share’ Lunch. We held a green exhibition, with 120 young people from the area exhibiting their green work. A harvest Supper & Art Cracker event saw us through to the end of the year & on to 2012.

We have now started our second site at a local art centre, with our next day planned for a few weeks’ time. We received more donations & funding to expand & are planning many more sites for the future. We’ve helped to educate young & old about gardening, sustainability, recycling, growing your own & much more. (Check out GreenSpace’s Facebook and Twitter.)

To ask whether Otesha influenced me in shaping this project? I can safely say, 100%, it most definitely has.

If you’re feeling inspired to join a six-week Otesha world-changing adventure you can find out more and apply here. See you on the road!

Leah's cycle tour tales

14th December 2011 by

A guest blog from the lovely Leah Kirby of Tartan Trail 2011. Find out what motivated Leah to join an Otesha adventure, and the impact it’s already having on her life just a few short months later.

Otesha had been a long time coming; during my years at university I had been involved and committed to a number of projects with the Permaculture Society and worked for the conservation charity the Fairyland Trust. Several friends had taken part in previous Otesha Tours and I was totally intrigued by the challenges of a cycle tour adventure, communal living and performing! In my daily life I enjoyed trips to the allotment, used my bicycle to wheel around the city and recycled at home. I even made my own draught excluder dog called Trev!

But for me what was integral to my motivation for coming on tour was the opportunity to facilitate educational outreach – to work with and mobilise young people to make them aware of the impacts their choices had on the world around them.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of performing and leading workshops in the school, but by the end of the Training Week I not only found myself playing the lead role in the play, but also kitted out with lots of fantastic skills in workshop facilitation, consensus decision-making, conflict resolution, public speaking, essential bike maintenance and was updated with some sustainable know-how from the trusty Otesha Handbook and numerous discussions on anti-oppression, organic food and wind-turbines!

Before we knew it our Tartan team were wheeling into Edinburgh to start our mammoth journey across the Scottish hills and through the twinkling lights of the cities.  Indeed living 24/7 with twelve others can make for a bumpy ride, but by working together using consensus and open discussions we managed to work through the problems we encountered.

Running the workshops turned out to be LOADS of fun and the young people we worked with were delighted and engaged with both the play and workshops, the teachers would tell us how amazed they were that the children had been completely absorbed in the adventures of Gilly. It was also extremely rewarding to receive such high praise after the workshops with one child shouting out ‘It was fandabudosi!!!’

When I think about the impact tour has had on me, I realise how much confidence I have gained public speaking coupled with developing sensitivity to dealing with people. I am currently searching for work and I find myself far more confident when meeting new people or facing a nerve-racking interview. I have also noticed the difference in my physical fitness and how much more energy I have to complete daily tasks as well as continuing to enjoy cycling everyday! I also am trying my best to avoid big supermarkets opting for the local green grocer and finding seasonal and where I can organic produce, as well as getting my staple grains/tins from workers co-operative initiatives.

Being a tour member has inspired me to get the wheels rolling for my own project ideas, which I hope to make a reality – it now feels far more possible with the help and support that is available from the Otesha Team and Alumni Support.

I wish to work with a friend who specialises in textiles to run workshops to unravel and reveal the processes at play within the textile industry, developing a series of workshops that stand up against throwaway culture by re-conceptualising daily objects and utilising reclaimed fabrics and traditional craft processes.

I was directly inspired by the fashion workshop on tour and the need to share my love of making tetra-pak wallets! It was also a visit to Starter Packs community initiative in Glasgow, which had a profound effect on me. Sarah and her loyal team found practical approaches to recover the symptoms of social marginalisation ­– poverty and homelessness. By providing packs for individuals going into new homes, basic items that we generally regard as fundamental to a dignified standard of living.

So not only was the organisation a benefit to people, it was coupled with awareness to the environment as most of their furniture, fabrics and crockery had been donated, reclaimed and thus recycled. It was the textile studio at the back of their store that captured my imagination – the piles of beautifully textured/patterned reclaimed fabrics – which had me desperate to grab some scissors, a needle and thread and get crafting!

Without my two-wheeled Otesha journey and meeting so many inspirational people from many walks of life, what I might have thought of as just a dream has transformed into a feeling of empowerment – to recognise my ability to carve out my own path and help to create the more sustainable world I wish to see.

Summer 2012 Cycle Tour applications are now open – find out more and sign up here.

Pinhole Pedalling

22nd September 2011 by

A couple of weeks ago, in true Otesha style, I went on a wee cycling adventure.  I joined Sam (LeJog) and Louise (LeJog and East Coast) for week three of their travels, pulling a giant camera (distributed between two heavy trailers) across the south-west.  We battled wind, rain, and a fair few hills to set-up a three-metre-square camera obscura, into which curious passers-by were then invited.  The project used photography to celebrate beautiful and diverse landscapes…..and let’s not forget bikes.  After a week of idyllic rural landscapes we reached Bristol and visited the wonderful Bristol Bike Project

We made lots of bicycle portraits (of bicycles and their owners/creators), you can see them and read more about the ride and our visit on the Pinhole Pedaller blog!

DIY Projects

14th July 2010 by

So… amongst numerous activities and the many other things they get up to, the lovely people at Otesha are piloting a new programme/service thing.

After various discussions and meetings, it now officially goes by the name of ‘DIY Projects’ and I have been offered to take part… I am the ‘DIY Pilot’, sounds pretty dangerous when put like that, but I assure you, there’s absolutely no flying involved!

I have been thinking and talking about all sorts of project ideas that I want to set up for quite some time now! It’s about time I got a move on and turn them from the ideas stage into reality… This is where the actual work begins, and where Otesha comes in! Through providing time to mentor me through the project, office space and facilities I should have everything in place to really build up some momentum.

What is my project idea? (I hear you ask)

I want to set up a pedal-powered delivery system. That is simply delivering stuff via bike.

Read the rest of this entry »

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