Ben’s Story – Kickstart Cycling Assistant

The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) are providing 30 job opportunities as part of the government’s Kickstart Scheme, which creates six-month job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds who are on Universal Credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. The scheme aims to support young people to bridge the gap between leaving education, or training, and finding a fulfilling career path.

One of the members of our first cohort of Kickstarters is Ben Steele, from Birmingham, who took on a role as Cycling Assistant in May 2021. He has been working alongside Shaun, the cycle mechanic, and the rest of the bikes team to repair bikes and run cycling activities. Ben has thrived throughout his placement and has now secured a permanent position as Cycling Community Delivery Worker.

Before starting the Kickstart placement, Ben was unemployed and searching for jobs. He explained that after finishing University,

‘I was lucky to be able to backpack across South America for three months after graduating and returned home just a few weeks before the first lockdown. Before this, I had worked several retail jobs, the most recent being a barista for Costa Coffee’.

However, he couldn’t return to this hospitality job due to Covid-19 closures, and mass redundancies made it hard to find work. He also said ‘I felt tired of working in retail, and relatively unfulfilled. I wanted a job that involved meeting new people regularly and that made me feel as if I was doing something to benefit others.’

During lockdown, Ben got into cycling, so when he saw the cycling assistant role, it seemed like a perfect fit. He explained,

‘The Kickstart position role at TAWS ticked every box I had for a new job. I wanted to learn more about bikes and help people, whilst also developing transferable skills to increase my own employability by the end of the six-month position.’

As a Cycling Assistant, Ben has been working alongside Shaun and the bikes team to support our wide range of cycling projects, including Bikeability, led rides, bike giveaways and cycle maintenance. He explained,

‘One thing I quickly learned is that there is no such thing as a typical week at TAWS. On my first week, I helped at a free bike giveaway, signing people in and chatting with them. Dr Bike sessions are a regular part of my role, in which we visit less advantaged areas in Birmingham, and offer completely free basic bike repairs to anyone that brings a bike along. This was perfect for me as I could learn on the job whilst also engaging with the public.’

As well as working with participants, Ben spends some time servicing bikes at our main warehouse, as well as travelling across the city to maintain bikes for different groups at cycling hubs.

During his placement, Ben has gained a range of practical skills and qualifications.

He said ‘Not only have I learnt how to build, fix and maintain bikes, but I am now a fully qualified Ride Leader and Bikeability Instructor.’ This means he can teach children how to ride a bike and cycle safely on roads, as well as take adults on led rides.

Ben has also been working with the Social Prescribing team to organise led rides for patients with mental or physical health conditions. He explained that he works with people who have been given a free bike on prescription*. ‘Every Wednesday morning, we go out as a group and people join and leave as they wish. We visit three different medical practices on the way and use these as ‘pick-up’ points.’

As well as practical skills and training, the placements also help young people gain soft skills and experience, such as professionalism, public speaking and group work. They take part in internal career days, which provide an insight into working in departments such as Finance, HR, and Marketing, and attend workshops on CV writing and interview techniques.

Reflecting on the impact of the placement, Ben said

‘The role has definitely made a difference to my life. I’ve never had a job where I feel this fulfilled in the work that I’m doing. I’ve gained valuable skills and also realised how much I value this type of work. Hopefully, I will stay within this sector (in some form or another) for the rest of my life.’

TAWS have a range of youth training and development programmes, such as Kickstart and Project Brum. To find out more about upcoming opportunities, follow us on Facebook or keep an eye on our websites job page.

*The Bikes on Prescription scheme connects patients who would benefit from cycling with ownership of a free bike. Patients are supported to learn to ride and participate in group cycling activities.

Nina Conway
Author: Nina Conway