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Bikes and lives turned around in a new recycling venture

4 August 2020

Bikes and lives turned around in a new recycling venture

At The Salvation Army, we are firm believers in the power of second chances – helping people manage challenges and find a new way of life. But it’s not just people we help. Bikes are being given a second chance at life on the road, with a new bike recycling program in Brisbane.

Andy Steele, the program coordinator, believes every machine that passes through the new centre has something worth saving – whether it’s a reflector or a bell.

Wes Thompson, a former aircraft engineer who spent several years in jail, is the principal mechanic at the bike recycling centre. He believes recycling bikes is helping him in his rehabilitation. Wes is aiming to move to Albury-Wodonga to be closer to his family – especially his children and grandchildren.

After being released from prison in 2017, Wes was introduced to The Salvation Army Streetlevel mission in Brisbane. While there, a friend suggested he look up Andy Steele. Despite a brief connection however, Wes found himself behind bars again.

“While incarcerated the second time, Andy (who does prison ministry) told me about the bike program and said I was welcome to come and have a look when I got out,” says Wes. At that stage, the Streetlevel bike recycling program was just beginning.

“While in jail, I had acquired a welding certificate. I also have a lot of knowledge in the engineering trade and made some suggestions to Andy about putting some windows and doors in the containers for when the bike shop opened.”

“We started to manufacture parts to put in the doors, workbenches, air compressors, window frames. We cut sections out of the container, welded window and door frames, put in windows and doors, benches to work on and put air-con in the containers to make it comfortable. My life was changing to the extreme.”

Giving old bikes new lives

Damien ‘Damo’ Saal was introduced to the program through Paul Brittenden (who is also involved in the bike-recycling program) while completing a rehabilitation program at The Salvation Army Moonyah drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre at Red Hill, Brisbane.

“I talked to Paul about what I wanted to do [and] bikes had come up in conversation,” Damien says. Paul told Andy about Damien’s interest in bikes and their partnership ‘rolled on from there’.

“It gives me a sense of purpose – some direction. It’s a passion. I would like to get more involved and hopefully turn it into some sort of employment,” Damien says. “I like giving back to The Salvation Army. It has done a lot for me ... they have saved my life. I was heavily involved in drugs [so] without these guys, who knows where I would be.”

Wes hopes to continue the bike-recycling venture when he moves to Albury-Wodonga.

“I have documented everything in pictures and writing. At my age, I’m finding it hard to get employment. This is ideal for me. It gets me out of the house, gives me responsibility and I can speak to the public. I have suffered from mental health issues, so this helps me cope – takes my mind away from things.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen this happen and I strongly believe this is a good thing for the workers and the community. The life I used to live before I did this was completely different. I’ve got the taste of this new way. I can’t go backwards.”

Official opening

After a slow and considered beginning, the bike-recycling program was officially inaugurated by Queensland Divisional Commander Lieutenant-Colonel David Godkin. With the help of some Brisbane City Council and Salvation Army grants, the centre was fully operational.

The centre was struggling to keep up with demand, which Andy says is “a nice problem to have.” The team worked as fast as they could to recondition a bike and get it into the shop, and it would sell right away.

Located in the grounds of the Salvos Stores centre at Red Hill in Brisbane’s inner northside, the centre is part of the Moonyah rehabilitation complex.

Andy believes they couldn’t have done what they’re doing without the help provided by Salvos Stores area manager, Stuart Estreich and his team. “The partnership with Salvos Stores is important. It’s just amazing how much help they’ve been in getting us up and running and giving us space in their stores,” he said.

The centre receives second-hand bikes from several different sources – including donations from a 99Bikes store and the public. They were also in negotiation with the Brisbane City Council to take any lost bikes that were not claimed after a designated period of time.

Andy says there are plans to approach Queensland Rail to engage in a similar arrangement.

All profits from the sale of the bikes benefit the Streetlevel ministry at the moment, but Andy is looking at the bigger picture.

“I hope, eventually, to make enough money to pay a wage and some small profits go back into the business.”

This article first appeared in The Salvation Army’s online magazine Others.org.au

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