UniCycle: Homegrown Pedal Power Project


With cycling being one of the most popular modes of transport for many Southampton students, it comes as no surprise that, at the end of the year, many bikes are abandoned around campus by students unable to take them home. But what happens to these unwanted bicycles?

That’s where UniCycle comes in: a project that recycles old bikes and finds new owners through a volunteer programme.

Wessex Lifestyle was able to find out from Adam Tewkesbury, Transport Operations Manager at Southampton University, on campus during the University’s E&E day on Thursday 29th September.

Hi Adam; could you just tell us a bit more about UniCycle and its history?

AT: UniCycle started at the University in January 2010, as a reaction to the large number of bikes found abandoned around the University campus. Up until then there had been no mechanism to deal with all the left over bikes, which eventually become just scrap. As transport manager at the University, I was keen to find a way to get these abandoned bikes into use. By June 2010, with help from the active travel charity Sustrans, we had managed to collect and repair 8 bikes to offer for sale at an event organised for National Cycle Week. We had no idea if it would be a success, but we were sold out in twenty minutes!

We took our idea into Fresher’s Week 2010, working with support from the University volunteering service, who provided volunteers to help with the bike sales, and we sold twenty bikes in forty minutes! Throughout the last year we have received funding, storage in halls and a time slot for our repair sessions. In 2010/11 we were granted £3,000 in funding from the University Student Centeredness Fund, which has allowed us to advertise the project and bring in an experienced bike mechanic to carry out repairs and provide a monthly Bike Doctor Service on the Highfield campus.

It’s also great news that you’ve been nominated for a Times Higher Education Award. Congratulations! How do you feel about this?

AT: We’re ecstatic – really happy! It really reflects the work that has been put into the project and our success so far. We’re hoping to go to the finals in London, which will be taking place in November.

What about bike safety? How do you maintain awareness, since Southampton is full of cyclists?

AT: This year we’re promoting ‘be safe, be seen’, and we have been handing out Uni-Cycle fluorescent snap-bands to help cyclists be noticed on the road. All bikes that we have repaired have all their safety features like reflectors, and our website has a section dedicated to safety when cycling. We try and get across the message to cycle safely, and provide guidance on where to get bike locks and lights at the Uni-Link office.

So today is the E&E day on campus, 29th September, and you have a stall up and running on the concourse. How has it gone so far for your team?

AT: It’s been….hot! Hot and busy, but good fun. This year we tried out a raffle system, rather than the usual bike sale, which has been a bit chaotic at past events. This time everyone was interested in the raffle idea and it went really well. It’s a much fairer way of doing things. People interested in getting a bike are given a raffle ticket. If they are picked, they get to buy a bike. Inevitably there are people who are disappointed, but they get put on a mailing list for the next available bicycle. Today we sold 16 bikes, as well as raising awareness, and our Bike Doctor repaired over fifty bikes throughout the day!

How can people get involved in UniCycle?

AT: Volunteering for UniCycle is essential for the programme to keep the final cost of bikes as low as possible, and also allows people to get experience organising events and carrying out bike maintenance tasks. It’s great for your CV and also counts towards your Graduate Passport, so it’s not just fun, it’s useful too.

We’re always on the lookout for volunteers to help repair, clean, take part in events and deal with promotion.

There are volunteer details on the Uni-Cycle web page, at www.soton.ac.uk/transport/unicycle/information and we also have a Twitter feed and Facebook page. Alternatively you can ask after us in the UniLink office about the Union Shop, or at Career Destinations in the Student Services building. We’re always on the lookout for volunteers to help repair, clean, take part in events and deal with promotion.

What’s the team like this year?

AT: We have around half a dozen regular volunteering students on the project and hope to get more – with a bigger team, we can sort out more bikes! We’re a friendly bunch too, and we get together around once a month to discuss UniCycle.

How do you go about promoting yourself? Is it fairly easy or do you find you have a few problems?

AT: We haven’t really found the need for much promotion; we tend to drum up interest in people passing by, or through word of mouth. In order to increase awareness this year, we hope to introduce the idea of donating your old bike rather than letting it rust when abandoned. This leaves them in better condition, making our job quicker and easier.  We’re planning to give away a free T-Shirt with every donation, and we’re keen to push this as the year goes on.

So, what can we expect from UniCycle in the future?

AT: Our scheme is hoping to move forward at a slow and manageable pace so that we can maintain the project. We would really like to secure a designated space on campus for a more permanent bike repair area, rather than leaving it for special events. We plan on our organisation becoming the overarching cycle brand for Southampton uni. We feel that UniCycle is a positive thing to share with the University, and we’re even trying to get Southampton Solent university involved. We want to expand, and anyone who is interested can take part.






Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    I am an Alumni of Southampton University and my husband and I are members of Southampton University Sports Rec. We noticed your unicycle mot stand today and wondered whether we would be able to use your recycled bike service.
    Best Regards, Liz Ashdown

    Jo Fisher

    I can’t speak for Adam or any of the Unicycle team, but you can contact them through the details on their website if you follow the UniCycle link in the article. At the bottom of their web page there’s a contact email. Hope that helps!

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