Recycles Ethos

The clue is in the name.

So there are no prizes for guessing that Recycles gets Swindon cyclists back on the road by repairing, restoring, refurbishing and rebuilding bikes. 

But that’s not even half the story. Our main mission is to provide work opportunities for recently homeless people, so they can pick themselves up and get their lives back on course. 

We do this by offering training and experience of a workshop and/or retail environment to any resident of Booth House, the Salvation Army’s Life House Centre for homeless people in Swindon.

In Recycles they are given the chance to learn new and valuable skills as bike mechanics, but – even more importantly – it injects them with the confidence necessary to face their challenges and rebuild their lives – as Kevin’s story demonstrates.

So you could even say we recycle people!

The shop is one of two social enterprises under the wing of Booth House, a Life House Centre that provides homeless people with a roof over their heads, but also the chance of a fresh start.  And we are proud to be doing our bit for the environment. Not only are we reducing Swindon’s carbon footprint by encouraging more people to take up and continue cycling, but we are, of course, also recycling bikes and parts that would otherwise end up on the scrapheap.

So Recycles is riding the green wave and helping the cycling boom – two aspects of life that have become even more topical as awareness has grown since the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the day the shop opened, back in 2011, another of our aims has been to make Recycles a hub for both would-be and existing cyclists in Swindon. 

So we are actively involved in local cycling initiatives and events, and have our own club.

Recycles Cycle Club (RCC) is aimed at would-be and experienced road bike enthusiasts of all ages and abilities, and most of the social rides in the club’s programme begin from the shop, largely on Sunday mornings. Find out more about the club here.

You can also be sure of a warm welcome in the shop – whether or not you end up buying anything or using our services. Our staff are as enthusiastic about cycling as they are knowledgeable, so don’t be afraid to drop in for some advice or guidance about any aspect of cycling, or just some cycling chat. 

Because – like the tea and the coffee – it’s free! Read on to find out more about our history, what we do and why, and other aspects of the Recycles story.

The Pioneers

Looking back to the origins of Recycles, 10 years ago

At Recycles we recycle bikes – and you could even say we recycle people by helping them overcome their challenges and regain their independence. 

So it is fitting that when the shop opened in September 2011, it was the result of another kind of recycling: giving a new twist to an existing idea.

The management of Booth House, the Salvation Army’s Life House Centre for homeless people in Swindon, had already seen the value of a social enterprise that was launched there, a few years before.

And as The Sandwich People [link?] expanded to become the go-to catering service for some of the town’s key employers, so the plan was hatched for a second social enterprise that would provide yet more opportunities for Booth House residents.

Suggestions on the table included a cafe and a car washing operation, but there were better ideas to come.

Liz Osborne who, along with Brian Gibbs, got the job of turning the idea into a business, explained: “When we asked residents, they didn’t think a cafe would have enough footfall along Princes Street, and when we talked about a car-washing facility, they felt it wouldn’t provide them with the kind of skills they would find useful.”

Then one of the residents had a lightbulb moment. 

Although the idea of creating a social enterprise was borrowed from The Sandwich People, the plan for a shop that takes old bikes and recycles them at affordable prices was brand new and unique.

“The other residents thought it was good, so that was it,” said Liz. “We had our project.”

Brian did the hard work of obtaining the necessary permission for the building’s change of use, and other important groundwork for launching the business, while work began on converting the premises into a high-end retail outlet.

“We wanted it to feel upmarket,” said Liz, “and something that people working in it would feel proud of. It had to look and feel like a real business, not a charity.

“But we also wanted it to be welcoming. Our aim has always been for Recycles to be a hub for cyclists in Swindon: somewhere they want to visit.”

Recycles also fitted perfectly into a niche.

“Before we opened, we talked to other bike shops in Swindon, such as Mitchell’s, Swindon Cycles and Halford’s, who had all been established for years, or even generations. 

“We didn’t want to be in competition with them, and it became clear that we were answering a different need, because all our bikes were to be recycled in some way.”

If it all seems obvious enough now, Liz explains that both social enterprises at Booth House are the result of some progressive thinking by the Salvation Army.

“There was a big shift in thought when the Salvation Army moved to Booth House from the old Davis House, which used to be its Life House Centre in Swindon. These days there is an even bigger emphasis on helping residents regain their independence, and the two social enterprises have a big part to play in that.”

And they were going back to their roots.

“Recycles is achieving something that William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was very clear about from the start: giving people the dignity and the skills to be independent, and to earn their living. So it was – and is – real grass roots stuff.

“It’s all about the people, and giving them the confidence and the skills that they can take on into independent living.”

That’s not to say that it has been easy, though.

“To be honest, it is sometimes hard to get residents involved, because confidence is key. One of the outcomes of being homeless is you lose the self-confidence that the rest of us often take for granted.

“However, as more and more people have come through the training and the experience of working in the shop, I think those who have done it provide important examples to others who will follow.

“We obviously want Recycles to provide a professional service and a friendly hub for cyclists, but the main focus is always on how it helps people to get their lives back together, and gives them the confidence that comes from being part of a successful team.”

The man with the job of implementing all this – the training of staff and the day-to-day management of the shop – is Simon Styles.

“One of the first things we did,” says Liz, “was appoint a workshop manager who is a qualified mechanic and a passionate cyclist. When Simon was first appointed, the shop was just a concrete shell, but he has put his life and soul into it.

“He is a highly respected and well-liked figure in Swindon, and one of the reasons Recycles has such a good reputation among local cyclists.”

Liz has now retired, but says she will always hold a special affection for Recycles – even if she is too modest to talk about how important she and Brian were in making it happen.

So the last word goes to Simon Styles, who will shortly celebrate ten years as the boss in the shop and workshop.

“We pride ourselves on what we have achieved,” said Simon, “and the good reputation we have. But the bottom line is always giving our residents the skills and the confidence they need to face their challenges and regain their independence.

“We’ve come a long way in ten years, but one thing that never changes is our ambition to keep on making Recycles live up to the vision that Liz and Brian had for it at the beginning.”

How to Support Recycles
and, no, we don’t want your money!

Thousands of people have supported Recycles over the years, but while most community-minded initiatives often depend on financial donations in order to survive, we’re different.

As a social enterprise we are able to generate income from sales of bikes and other services, but we also receive subsidies and other support from the Salvation Army.

We do organise some fundraisers from time to time, but if you hear us ask for donations, we are more likely to be talking about bikes and bike bits, rather than money.

We always welcome people who want to give us their old bike: that old faithful that has been in the shed for years, the ones the kids grew out of, or whatever. 

We’ll also gladly take bike bits off your hands, from the bell you don’t need any more, to those old mudguards (although, sadly, not used inner tubes and tyres).

So contact us if you can help.

Otherwise there are two main ways to support us.

The first is by simply using the shop – because as a fully functioning retail outlet, we are nothing without customers.

And please also help us by spreading the word about what we do and why.

Many of our customers tell us that despite all the other good reasons for coming to Recycles – good value, professional expertise, friendly service, free advice, cycling chat, smart premises, green benefits, joining the club, free coffee, and more – what they like best is the pleasure and satisfaction that comes from supporting a social enterprise. 

Everyone who supports Recycles is helping formerly homeless people get back on track by giving them useful skills, boosting their confidence.

It’s not so much a win-win situation as win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win.

So welcome on board! 

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