Within each of us resides a maverick spirit. This series delves deeper into those people who's maverickness paves a way forward in business, creativity and sustainability – awakening our own inner maverick.
James Lucas was on a cycle tour through Scandinavia, when he and a friend developed the idea of the Bristol Bike Project - a community hub that supports and empowers local people, from all walks of life, to be independent on two wheels. We caught up with James, to find out more about his passion for the bicycle, re-using and repairing and believing in your community.
Words by James Lucas | Film stills by Sim Warren
Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what the Bristol Bike Project is about?
My name's James and I started the Project with a good pal of mine back in 2008. The Project supports some of Bristol's most vulnerable and socially isolated into getting on to two wheels and, in the process, reuses a whole bunch of bikes and parts that would otherwise have been destined for the metal scrap heap. BBP is also, and for me most importantly, a real melting pot of people from all walks of life - a community hub, playing its part in breaking down barriers and negative, unhelpful stereotypes.
What role do bikes play in your life?
Riding a bike is my primary way of getting around Bristol and I'll always make it my priority to do this over driving. My 6-year-old son has been riding since he was 3 and so it's often the way we spend time together or go on adventures. As he gets older and is able to cycle further, I'm really looking forward to getting back to doing some cycle touring again. Beyond the practical aspects, I find myself immediately feeling more optimistic and hopeful when I'm out on my bike (even when just commuting) - everything seems a little more possible from the saddle, and in this way, regularly riding bikes vastly improves my mental wellbeing!
You use bikes as a vehicle for change, what impact does this have on the people who come to the BBP?
There is a myriad of ways that having a bicycle can positively impact on those coming to BBP. For many, it will be the key to opening up the city to them and making their daily lives much more workable. Whether it's getting to work or to college, making it to important appointments or simply to stay connected with friends who live on the other side of town, having a bicycle and being able to keep it rolling smoothly, will make a real difference for most of the people who access the community services at BBP. Aside from the practical benefits, many of our users tell us that they gain so much pleasure from simply riding a bike around (that they were involved in fixing up) and feeling empowered by their newly-acquired mobility.
Why do you think it takes social projects like yours to bridge the gap to these minority communities?
I think that grassroots projects like BBP typically tend to be more welcoming to many minority communities and have fewer barriers to those wishing to access them. BBP has always been extremely inclusive and accepted people at face value, which makes people want to return and tell others about it. In my experience of these sorts of projects, there is also an optimism and a real sense of hope, that it can often be hard to find elsewhere. I really believe that these sorts of social projects and organisations play a crucial part in building more resilient, connected and enlightened communities, especially in light of the ongoing 'them and us' fearmongering that continues to fuel the capitalist agenda.
Taking old bikes and repairing them, giving them a new life, is one of the key ingredients to the ethos at BBP and even yourself. It’s also a philosophy that more and more people are living by, what are your thoughts on this?
I think more and more people are waking up to the fact that it's totally unsustainable and simply not okay to ditch something because it breaks or needs repairing. I was working as part of a re-use initiative at the dump in Bristol a few years ago and it was unbelievable what people were throwing away - one time, a whole bicycle because it simply had a flat tyre and the owner didn't know how to fix a puncture! With most things, I believe that buying new should always be the last resort. I also think that we've got hands and brains for a reason, and it feels immensely satisfying to connect them up to use them to fix something - there's so much value in doing that.
What’s your favourite bike?
This totally depends on where I am and what I'm doing. One of the most memorable bike 'trips' I ever had was a weekend spent cycling around London on a tall bike that I'd been involved in welding up at the project out of scrap frames - at that point in time, wheeling high around London's busy, bustling streets in the sunshine with no real rush, that bike was totally my favourite bike of all time...ever!
And finally, what does travel mean to you?
I really like slow travel. Especially with a 6-year-old that's pedalling alongside. Moving simply for the sake of motion. It doesn't have to be far and wide. In fact, from an ecological point of view, I really think that we need to reveal more in the idea of travelling locally, getting to know the landscapes closest to us and not being sold the idea that we need to transport ourselves to the other side of the planet to feel like we're travelling. As Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."