Queen’s University Belfast PhD Medical student Samantha Gallaher has set up Belfast Bikebank to address the issue of transportation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers living in Belfast. While similar incentives have been established in England, this is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Samantha discovered after speaking to several charities that houses available to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Belfast are often located at the opposite side of the city to their places of employment and potential employment interviews, English classes, appointments and support groups. As a result, they have had to approach charities for help with transport costs. A majority of Asylum Seekers here only receive £40 a week, and having to often take two buses to get to their commitments is taking a serious financial toll on them. Being unable to afford public transport often leads to Refugees and Asylum Seekers missing their classes, appointments and support groups, and they are becoming socially isolated as a result.
Samantha wished to combat this unfair and difficult situation, so she has teamed up with a second-hand bicycle shop in Belfast City centre called City Centre Cycles, opened in August of this year by Richard Bradley. The shop is located on Queen Street and already has plans to expand. Partnered with NICRAS (Northern Ireland Community for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) as a contact point, Samantha and her team’s mission is to repair unwanted bicycles (donated or abandoned) to give refugees access to a free mode of transportation and help reduce social isolation. Belfast Bikebank want “to encourage recycling as much as possible” and urge people to “please think twice about taking something to the dump before recycling it.”
Belfast Bikebank was set up only two months ago, and according to Samantha they have already “exceeded expectations”. At the beginning of November, they donated their very first bikes to Homeplus NI and NICRAS Belfast.
Belfast Bikebank revealed on facebook that “these organisations do tremendous work with Refugees and Asylum Seekers coming to Belfast and we’re so pleased to partner together to help resettle people into our city. It was only 6 weeks ago that Belfast Bikebank started to take shape and it’s incredible how far we’ve come in such little time. We are so thankful to the people and organisations who have offered their time, expertise and businesses to help us reach this milestone.”