Mountjoy prisoners help fix bicycles for refugees located around Ireland

A new programme has been set up which involves prisoners in Mountjoy helping to fix bicycles for refugees who are located around Ireland, and they are looking for more bicycle donations to support this work.

“We have a waiting list of around 400-450 who have emailed us directly requesting bikes, it’s mostly women and their kids,” said Paul McQuaid on the bicycles for refugees work as part of The Good Bike Project.

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Since the war in Ukraine broke out, McQuaid, who is also the owner of River Cycles at Ushers Island along the quays in Dublin, has devoted most of his time to providing bicycles for refugees.

He is helped by volunteers, including a young Ukrainian. Those who also support the project also include people donating bicycles, the courier company DPD, the Irish Red Cross, and, most recently, prisoners in Mountjoy.

IMAGE: Volunteers working on bicycles at Ushers Island.

“The latest count is 1,852,” he says of the number of bicycles fixed so-far as part of the wider Good Bike Project. He wants to increase the output to fix up another 2,000 in the coming year.

He describes the group in the prison as “dedicated, keen and enthusiastic” about the programme. The prison is just up the road from the quays and he cycles up there three days a week to work with the prisoners from 4pm to 7.30pm.

“For the last three months, I’m over in Mountjoy prison three afternoons a week teaching prisoners to fix bikes that were donated. When the bikes are done up, they come over to us and we send them out,” said McQuaid.

“The programme is new and working well so-far, the prisoners are really keen to become bicycle mechanics,” he said. “They have literally set up a Men’s Shed in Mountjoy.”

“For health and safety reasons there can only be 8 people in the Men’s Shed at a time — some guys come in and spend a couple of weeks, some guys go, so it changes.”

“We recently sent 25 bikes down to Achill Island. The situation was that there’s 70 people on Achill Island and all of the kids were walking to school, and now about 15 of them are cycling to school,” said McQuaid

He said: “Literally people in every county in Ireland have emailed us and we have sent bikes via DPD every day. We’ve sent them to every county in the country.”

“Our objective, if we can get a bit of support, is to get 2,000 repaired in the next year. We’ve done this all on our own bat but now we need support, it’s as simple as that, we cannot keep doing this.”

IMAGE: A group picking up their bicycles from The Good Bike Project (images provided by the project)

Interviewed this morning while he was setting up to start working on bicycles from his shop along the quays, he said: “It would have taken too long to set up a charity, so, it’s been done using a company limited by guarantee”, this is the same as many volunteer groups and the likes of clubs around the country. And he added the project is endorsed and supported by the Irish Red Cross.

With the work the prisoners do, he said: “It’s mostly restoring the bikes rather than repairing them, that involves taking rust off bikes — a bit of heavy lifting, not just getting fancy bikes that were bought on the Cycle to Work Scheme, you know, a year ago and then donated. We’re getting bicycles that are a good few years old.”

“Like mountain bikes with 26-inch tires… you cannot buy new mountain bikes with 26-inch tires anymore, that’s how old they are. We get a lot of those bikes,” McQuaid said. “These are bikes that were made to last.”

“Some of the bikes we have restored over in the prison are old retro Giants and Raleighs and they are in absolutely perfect condition. So, it’s really cool from that point, because I’m into old bikes,” he said.

For anybody who has a bicycle to be donated, he says to send him a WhatsApp message with a photo — “Send me a WhatsApp, some types of bikes we badly need and others we have too many from a storage point-of-view, that’s why I need to see a picture of the bike.”

Another factor is that not all bicycles are worth the time of fixing them up, so, that’s also a reason why he asks that people send in photos of the bikes they want to donate first.

As an example, he explains that a bicycle that a man, who he was talking to before me, brought in to be repaired but that it wouldn’t be worth the time as it would take the same amount of time as fixing up five other bicycles. He said it would be a better use of time to get another bicycle ready for that man.

You can find Paul McQuaid’s phone number at: thegoodbikeproject.com/contact

IMAGE: The Good Bike Project also provides bicycles to others who need them, including children with Down syndrome.

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