Bikehall founder-member Henry Roe gives us the story of Sheffield's newest community bike kitchen
Foodhall Project is Sheffield’s multi-award winning public dining room and community kitchen. Its heart-of-the-city eating and event space has been open since 2015 and is dedicated to building community and food security while tackling social isolation, inequality, and food waste.
But what’s that got to do with bikes and cycling?
Foodhall’s open organisational structure means that members of the community are welcome to contribute to the project in many different ways. If you’re into pottery, you can start up pottery workshops. If you’re passionate about film, you can start up a cinema night. And if you’re into riding (and fixing) bicycles and want to share that with others, well, you can do that too.
That’s how Bikehall started in 2018. The plan was to share our (sometimes rusty) bike maintenance knowledge with other people in the Foodhall community who wanted to learn or whose bicycles needed some TLC. The problem was: we had no money and few resources for getting the workshops off the ground. With the help of a bit of funding from Love to Ride and NUS's UniCycle project, however, we were on our way to having just enough tools and equipment to get moving.
Bikehall began with a series of bike maintenance workshops in autumn, 2018. We invited folks to join us for a two hour class about a specific part of the bicycle (brakes, gears, etc.) followed by a hearty meal cooked by volunteers. The sessions were well-attended and we had some great feedback. Our team of committed volunteers also grew after workshop-attendees wanted to get more involved.
After our initial success, it would be wrong to say it was all plain sailing from there. In 2019 our workshop attendance dropped off and we soon realised we needed to promote the sessions more widely. We also decided we wanted to experiment with different kinds of events, to act as cycling advocates and not just bicycle tinkerers. We ran a film night in collaboration with Foodhall’s TV Dinners project, in which we showcased three short films from a diverse range of film makers.
We also organised our first Bikehall bike ride - a 20km(ish) route out to Damflask reservoir in the foothills of the Peak District. We also changed our workshops to an open bike kitchen-style ‘Build-a-Bike’ workshop format - through which we rejuvenate donated bikes to sell but also help other people fix their own bikes. This gives us more flexibility during the sessions, regardless of how many people turn up.
Running these events and making the change to the workshop format has helped us maintain a more sustainable schedule for us as volunteers and for people who want to join in. Support from other local organisations has also helped a lot. We had 5 bikes donated to us from the University of Sheffield, lots of hardware donated from COMAC Bike Project, and some more bikes given to us from ReCycle Bikes - who run their own well-priced Bike Kitchen with a really supportive team of mechanics.
All of this means that in 2020 we’re planning to do even more. We have another ride (or two) in the works, we’re organising another film/documentary screening (with food!), and we’re running bimonthly build-a-bike workshops (every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month, from 5.30-8pm). In addition, we’re building our own permanent bike workshop space in Foodhall’s basement - to give more people access to a fully kitted out workshop at different times of the day. It’s all shaping up to be another great year for Bikehall.
If you want to get involved please check out our webpage or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We especially need experienced and/or confident bike mechanics to help supervise workshops. If that sounds like you, then please get in touch!