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/

The Pedal Powered adventure begins – training week at Felin Uchaf

8th July 2014 by

This year’s cycle tour are well on their way. Here’s their first team blog from training week!

Time! Time is a funny thing. These past five days have felt more like weeks. In the safe and supportive nest here at Felin Uchaf in deepest north-west Wales we have felt welcomed by our generous host Dafydd.

These action-packed days have been filled with intense Otesha knowledge – from bike maintenance to consensus-decision making, fun games to learning about anti-oppression with an exhilarating sea swim thrown in.

 

Today we embark on our quest to travel the length and width of the country by bicycle over the span of two weeks, sharing information and inspiration as we visit schools and community groups en route. How are we feeling you may ask?

 

We arrived ten strangers and set out as a close team of ten friends. We are ready to take on the hills, the weather, the roads… We feel GOOD! See you on the other side of those hills!

Bi-monthly Challenge – March 2014

17th March 2014 by

It’s Challenge Time!

At Otesha, we like to challenge ourselves (and our readers) to live more sustainably. That’s what our cycle tours and all our other programmes at Otesha are about! Regular readers of our musings will know we set a challenge with each newsletter. We want your ideas, the challenges you want to take part in – or have already tried! Email info@otesha.org.uk to give us some suggestions!

SONY DSC

This month, though, a sustainable transport challenge, with a few options…

1. If your bike’s rusting away - get it out, give it some love and get it (and your lovely self) back on the road. (If you need help, pop along to our free Dr Bike workshop at our office on Tuesdays 5-6pm!) If you want some cycle training, lots of local councils offer free sessions, they can be a great way to feel confident on the road. We’d love to see photos of you and your trusty steeds. Email them to us or tweet @OteshaUK

2. If you’re a regular bike commuter - try something new. What about a mini-weekend bicycle tour? It’s a great way to see the UK, a wonderful, cheap holiday, and you’ll feel so alive! Or go and get skilled up in bike-maintenance so you can be a self-sufficient cyclista. (You could also sign uP1060484p for an Otesha tour!)

3. Help someone else get on their bike. Let’s face it, some of us couldn’t cycle much more if we tried. So why not support someone else to start cycling… you could join a campaign or give more practical support with bike maintenance, or join someone on their commute to work to help them feel more confident on the road. You could check out organisations like this, this, and this, for a place to start!

4. If cycling isn’t for you, switching your travel habit, to foot, bus, or train is super too!

Inspiring Projects to make your own

7th November 2013 by

http://mariashriver.com/blog/2013/08/powered-by-inspiration-maria-shriver/Here at Otesha we’re always on the lookout for inspiration.  No doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of people, organisations, projects, and places that do the trick.  Recently we came across Revolutionary Arts and their list of 50 inspiring projects.  We like what they have to say: Revolutionary Arts is dedicated to new ideas, fresh challenges and radical thinking. It makes things for places and people.

Looking over the list below, I’d say it’s all about finding those precious moments/ideas/thoughts/people and celebrating the way they ‘inspire you to bring playfulness, pride, pop up fun, placeshaking and productivity to the place where you live‘.

Stay tuned as sources say there’s another list of 50 coming.  We can’t wait!

  1. Open a pop up bookshop
  2. Make some robots
  3. Plant more sunflowers
  4. Start a shop local campaign
  5. Walk to work
  6. Create an indoor charity market
  7. Open a cycle-powered cinema
  8. Ask people what they want in the neighbourhood
  9. Make your own roadsigns to encourage people to walk
  10. Start a weekend festival in a forgotten corner of the town
  11. Manage the empty shops to make it easier for people to use them
  12. Make the public spaces places for people to sit
  13. Turn the place you live into a Play Street
  14. Create a Cash Mob and support independent shops
  15. Print your own money
  16. Grow more food
  17. Fill the shops with swings
  18. Plant a sensory garden
  19. Think of the bicycle as transport, not just a leisure activity
  20. Install benches with bookshelves at bus stops
  21. Open a pop up playspace
  22. Design theatre posters and paste them up
  23. Find new uses for empty shops
  24. Only buy secondhand stuff
  25. Start a bicycle recycling project
  26. Tell people what’s made locally
  27. Collect photographs of things you’d usually ignore
  28. Make your street a 10 smiles an hour zone
  29. Give teenagers their own market
  30. Open a café that gives homeless people jobs
  31. Ride your bike naked
  32. Open a box shop
  33. Find the garden under the paving slabs
  34. Build your own mobile phone network
  35. Imagine what an art festival could do
  36. Meet up to celebrate local architecture
  37. Create interactive art in windows with digital technology
  38. Open a book exchange in a fridge
  39. Ensure that people can walk (not drive) to the town centre
  40. Clean up the place where you live
  41. Make buildings from shipping containers
  42. Open a pop up crazy golf course in a shopping centre
  43. Make the whole town an arts venue
  44. Turn the local park into a city farm
  45. Paint your own pedestrian crossings on streets
  46. Start a moveable museum
  47. Bring bees to the city
  48. Find out what makes a place special
  49. Make sure your high street balances
  50. Create a pop up thinktank and write your own list of ideas for making where you live better
via Revolutionary Arts

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

20th March 2013 by

economy s

Click the image to enlarge. More cartoons here.

Western Quest goes West Country proper!

8th October 2012 by

After a wonderful stay at the West Town Farm in Ide, Exeter, it was sadly time to move on and head further West to the gorgeous hilly countryside of the Dartmoor National Park. After a difficult start to the ride (anyone who knows the giant hill to Dunchideock leaving Ide will know what I am talking about) the rest of the 20 miles to Ashburton were relatively flat and really beautiful, a wonderful ride. On arrival at The Husbandry School, a few miles outside of Ashburton, we were greeted by yet another steep climb to the farm itself but were rewarded  by arguably the best view of the whole Western Quest cycle tour at the top.

Thanks to Jonty and Carole we immediately felt welcomed and at home on their lovely farm and were treated to the luxury of a bath and comfortable night’s sleep – much appreciated with an early start and hilly six mile cycle to Landscove primary school the next morning. Despite our fears, the six mile cycle across the Devonshire hills to Landscove raced by at 8am, due to the lack of trailers, tents and panniers weighing us down.

 

We were immediately welcomed at this small but friendly rural school in Landscove and enjoyed performing our play to the whole school. Although the play is aimed at students aged 8 and over, the years 1 and 2 really seemed to enjoy it and some of the songs had the best audience participation of the whole tour – a great start to the morning. After the play we split into two groups and led workshops on transport and energy. The school were impressively already taking many ‘green’ measures, such as an energy saving campaign and signs around the school informing us to switch appliances off when not in use, a small allotment in the playground where students were learning to grow their own vegetables and school lunches made from ingredients from a local organic farm. The students were therefore very receptive to our workshops, which seemed to both refresh and embellish ideas on what action we can take in our everyday lives to be more sustainable.

 

The energy workshop was interesting to build on the work the school was already doing and the students enjoyed energy charades and were very surprised at which electrical appliances use the most energy. After doing an energy audit of the school the students had many great ideas on how we can continue to reduce our energy consumption, at school and at home, which we were really pleased to hear. The transport workshop with year 6 also went well, with students eagerly learning about different forms of transport and which are least polluting. As a result of the workshop many students pledged to use public transport when possible and car share to school with people who lived near them. They also said that they felt more confident to maintain their bikes, which we were really happy with.

All in all, we had a great experience at the small but pro-active and welcoming school, which was really interesting both for the students and us. We happily left the school to meander back to The Husbandry School, along the country lanes in the September sunshine, filling our tupperwares with blackberries as we went; a wonderful and inspiring morning’s work.

Gloucester and Newent – Oteshafied!

30th August 2012 by

Having turned our tums into landfill for abandoned bread products during our last breakfast in Stroud (mortifyingly, our picnicbench broke after the third helping), the ‘Five Hills’ that concertina around Stroud greeted us with particular grit as we began the 15 miles to Gloucester- we discovered why Painswick is so named, as our calves burned to reach this sandstone-clad village atop a particularly gruesome hillock. Once past the village of Edge, however, it was mad freewheeling down a treacherously pebbly and steep lane to reach the plains ‘o Gloucester. With such a short distance, we’d figured we could enjoy a relatively leisurely departure and still reach our destination with plenty of rehearsal time, but it would seem that cycle rides are like traffic on newly-built roads- they seem to exponentially fill up the space you give them – time slithered away as we paused for lunch by the canal, to pick blackberries, for a bask by the canal (Spartan living gives an extra appreciation for simple pleasures: sun on tired legs, soft grass in the small of the back…)…The heavens opened as we reached Gloucester Docks, but like a floating lighthouse in a storm, the SULA lightship appeared alongside, offering tea and shelter. Beautifully refurbished ship turned Buddhist centre, it offers holistic therapies and yoga as well as much needed tea for waifs and wayfarers…

The sky was dusking as we rolled up to ‘Lydia’s garden’: our home for the next two nights. Lydia  and her parents Kim and Steve had kindly offered to house us on behalf of Transition Newent and boy, were we in for a treat. Flat ground! Warm water.. from taps! Plum trees, chickens, guinea pigs, and best of all a SOFA! We felt thoroughly spoiled but just about managed to put away a stupefying amount of delicious food, much of it grown and cooked by generous members of Transition Newent. Ann, one of the group’s founders, had welcomed us and left us with an inventory to tell us the provenance of every treat – including veggie cottage pie, roast veggies, polenta cake, brownies, fresh apple juice and a stonking plum crumble. Over the feast Lydia shared told us about her recent cycling exploits, including a 100 mile-ride with her school from Snowdon to Gloucester! Having just aced her A-Levels, she’s soon to begin university but we’d love to adopt her for a future Otesha jaunt.…Cradling aching pot bellies, we waddled to the garden to rehearse the Morning Choices play to Lydia and Kim- thanks for the laughter you two! The food and homely comforts led us rapidly to snooze and a few snores…

After a quick cuppa back at Lydia’s, we had 7 more miles to cycle in the opposite direction to get to our performance for TransitionNewent. Idyllically nestled by the lake in a pretty park, audience numbers were nigh-on non-existent, so an audience-poaching mission was unleashed: the unsuspecting customers of Newent chippy were among those regaled by our offer of free, al fresco entertainment and we did reel in a few, including some high-spirited young fishermen who led a running commentary of the play  but we were secretly pleased that they stayed throughout. It was a good time to develop our message and gauge our reception a bit before we begin visit schools after their summer breaks. What’s great is that these different settings and audiences for the play unleash different energies and helps keep us on our toes. Our performance was followed by a magnificent picnic with some of Transition Newent, hearing about their efforts to engage a wider public with events such as free fruit picking, but it’s no easy task.

The morning began with riding the seven miles to St James City Farm in Gloucester for our first performance of the day. We were welcomed by the very inspiring Derek Wakefield-Brown, who’s been overseeing the farm since its inception in the early Nineties and whose passion for bringing farm animals and young humans together shines through. Bursting with the bleats of goats (best friends of the pony), the farm breathes life into a relatively deprived part of Gloucester. The farm enables thousands of city families to bond with animals in a nurturing environment, while giving young volunteers husbandry skills that have inspired some to go on to study agriculture and take on some of Derek’s mantle. Sadly the farm was on the brink of closure as the council funding dried up, but help from the Friendship Café charity has rejuvenated the project. The performance was a challenging one- our audience consisted mostly of young mums and tiny tots, and we really felt the sense of not wanting to alienate them by harping on too much about organic food- sustainability and affordability can seem oxymoronic, especially for families struggling with low budgets. However, Derek’s enthusiastic response was reassuring, as he asked us to come back next year for a performance in central Gloucester as part of a one-day eco event he’s organising (and suggested we perform in an Asda car park- Sunday opening has robbed the farm of Sunday visitors, he says).

Next stop  – Cirencester!

Tastetastic South 1 : Hills 0

25th August 2012 by


Bonjour, Guten Tag from the French-German connection of the Tastetastic Southern Tour live from the beautiful rainy Cumbria (England!). We are deeply sorry that this won’t be more multilingual but we had to step back in consensus decision making process and accept English as the dominant language. Donc this blog entry will be in English ;-)

Welcome to Fairyland….

Over the last few days a happy bunch of cyclists managed to get through the dangerous and hilly Scottish Borders thanks to many fairies along the way. Magic pastries created by the fairies of the Dunbar cooperative community bakery, which was set up by Sustaining Dunbar, helped us power all the way to Westruther (once we were set free by the very knowledgeable fairy Mark who told us stories about local wind farms, landfills and nuclear power stations). Soon after having left the caring Dunbar fairies and after an impressive thunder, we were welcomed by more of them in Westruther. The local fairies kindly offered us the village hall as our shelter and soon we met many nice and interesting and curious little pixies at Westruther Primary School and taught them about fair-trade and food production.  As a final goodbye to the wee town of Westruther we spent a night of festivities in Angie’s local pub next to a heart-warming firewood, playing pool, the ukulele and singing songs.  Our charming landlady fairy finally offered us some yummy mange-tout which nearly gave us enough strength to cycle to the far far away Headshaw Farm next to Hawick passing via lovely Midlem where we were lucky to experience local Scottish hospitality…

Indeed, the big hairy hill fairy nearly attempted to kill our entire team by putting a massive hill at the entrance of our 5 star hotel in Headshaw Cottage… Comfy beds and hot showers were waiting for us but it was not long before we all had to jump out of our sleeping bags and cycle for more than 10 miles in the worst weather that the angry Scottish Gods could have created. All of our happy jolly team landed in St Margaret’s RC Primary School looking more than soaked but, the great pupils and teachers’ fairies helped us recover our positive spirits and deliver our 4 fun and informative workshops about energy, fair-trade, grow your own and transport. We final ly paid a visit to the marvellous and generous bike fairy Julian, from Borders Cycles, who took a lot of his time to repair all of our unhappy bikes… Thanks again!

With another good night’s sleep in the comfy cottage, new knowledge about passive houses and heat pumps and the feeling of having made a difference to the local primary school in Hawick we set off towards Low Luckens Organic Resource Centre in Cumbria, England. Unfortunately the local bike fairies were on holiday that morning and after an hour of punctures and little bike troubles we were saved again by our faithful bicycle fairy Julian at Borders Cycles in Hawick, we can only recommend him!  With lots of enthusiasm, a smart cow distraction fairy from Cambridgeshire to clear congested country roads, many fairies among us to push the trailers up many hills and brilliant cake fairies in the local teashop in Newcastleton, we reached a beautiful woodland camping ground next to grazing cows at Low Luckens. Now we’re ready to reach more youth with our sustainability workshops and eager to learn about the Organic Resource Centre…

A bientôt und bis bald

(Coraline & Ralph)

Rail, Sail, and plenty of Ale.

16th July 2012 by

The journey started much like my normal commute – weaving past traffic in the morning ‘rush’ hour I headed into the centre of London. It was the added panniers and tent strapped to my bike that set this morning apart, and I headed to Euston station instead of the office. The holiday had begun!

I was taking advantage of the Rail and Sail ticket – a few days before I had paid just £38 to get me and my bike from London to Dublin. These tickets are available from anywhere in the UK but the best thing for me was that the price (around £40) doesn’t change – no more trawling websites for those elusive cheap tickets! Once again I found  The Man in Seat 61  as knowledgeable and helpful as ever when planning this trip – the site offers pages of information and first hand experiences of travelling overland to countless worldwide locations. The pages on Ireland were particularly good, and even offers good advice about taking your bike (key thing – remember to reserve a space for it).

Once in Ireland I headed to Cork and met a friend before riding out to the South West Peninsulas. We had no real plan other than to sample the fantastic music, wild landscapes, smooth dark ales and peaty whiskeys that bought us there. All the while we were on the road we only met a small handful of other cycle tourers – a big surprise as Ireland seemed ideally suited. Away from the towns the roads become near deserted and wind through some breathtaking landscapes. We rode until early evening, and found no problem finding a spot to camp for the night. Some nights we approached a farmer, or a local tending his garden – but we always observed simple wild camping rules and never left a trace.

 

Whilst planning this article I’ve also found you can rail and sail to Holland for £36! I think that’s my next holiday sorted…

Green jobs roundup: People power meets pedal power

20th March 2012 by

It’s no secret that here at Otesha we love bikes. It’s also no secret that we think green & decent jobs are super important if we’re going to find a good way forward out of this whole ecological/economic collapse situation (let’s face it, it’s kind of a mess right now).

Recently I wrote a blog enthusing the power of worker-owned cooperatives because when the jobs aren’t there, why the heck not make them ourselves, right? This time around, I wanted to follow up on my mostly American example by showcasing some homegrown people-powered projects.

So, enter Brixton Cycles and the Edinburgh Bike Co-op – two lovely places that between them have created hundreds of jobs, including more than 120 co-op owners, since they opened their doors. Both of them operate on the same basic system – if you’re a co-op member then you’ve got equal rights, equal responsibilities and equal ownership. No member is higher up the food chain than another, and no member is immune to the risks that come along with any kind of businesses. Both shops take on workers on a trial period, where after a year of employment they become eligible to join the co-op. Right now, Brixton Cycles has 13 co-op members and the Edinburgh Bike Co-op (which has also opened shops in Aberdeen, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield) has around 100.

If you want to know more, I’d recommend reading up on the Brixton Cycles history and checking out this article on what it means to Edinburgh Bicycles Co-op to work cooperatively.

And this year is the UN’s international year of co-operatives, which aims “to raise public awareness of the invaluable contributions of cooperative enterprises to poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration.” Hear, hear!


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