Abandoned bikes from the University campus are enjoying a new lease of life in rural South Africa thanks to an ongoing project led by Leeds Sport and local charity, the Bambisanani Partnership.
Over the last four years the bikes have found their way to Mnyakanya High School in Kwa-Zulu Natal to support the charities inspirational ‘Cycle to Success’ programme. Each summer staff and students from both the University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University travel to South Africa to deliver a week of cycling based activities to pupils at the school. Travel to and from school in these remote areas can be challenging with some pupils walking two hours every day to access education. The University students and staff spend a week teaching pupils how to ride and maintain bikes – a commonplace skill in the UK but a life changing and mobilising one over in this part of South Africa! The programme ultimately helps pupils develop confidence and skills which support them to remain in the education system as well as the mechanical skills needed to keep the bikes moving long term.
Through partnership work in the UK with university campus Sustainability & Security Services more than 20 bikes a year are refurbished and shipped to Mnyakanya along with new bikes acquired through University & Bambisanani Partnership fundraising and spare parts and tools funded by the Rob Stephenson Trust. The generous support of Manchester based shipping giants, Cardinal Maritime means the bikes are transported free of charge. Many of the old bikes are damaged when they are acquired so staff and students give up their time to repair them to make sure they are safe and functional when they arrive in the port in Durban. The student volunteers receive sports leadership and cycling proficiency training in the UK before travelling to South Africa to teach children aged 12-15 how to ride the bikes in just one week. 30-35 South African pupils are supported to learn regardless of their starting point – some have never sat on a bike before, whilst others progress quickly learning how to signal and ride safely on open roads. Pupils are also supplied with bikes parts such as inner tubes and brake cables and taught how to repair the bikes which inevitably break down more quickly on the dirt roads around the school. The bikes stay in a hub at the school, being loaned out to pupils to break down the barrier of transport to school where one exists. Additionally, students from Leeds and Mnyakanya also join together in a wide range of cultural activities with traditional singing, dancing and sports activities taking place after school each day.
For the past fourteen years the Yorkshire based charity, The Bambisanani Partnership has worked in one of South Africa’s most deprived rural areas using sport as a catalyst to promote education, health, global citizenship and leadership. The charity has gained international acclaim for its work and the university involvement has taken this to new heights, with the Mnyakanya bike hub and ‘Cycle to Success’ project being the brainchild of Leeds Sport Professional Development Manager, Andrew Lockwood. Andrew was approached in 2015 by the Bambinsanani Partnership to support the expansion of their work in South Africa to involve staff and students from the University of Leeds. Andrew accompanied a group from the projects founding school, St Mary’s in Menston on a fact-finding mission that year. Using his expertise and experience in the field of sport development, Andrew engaged with teachers and pupils to understand some of the challenges faced in accessing education and future employment and the idea of the bike hub was born.
Mrs Pk Zondi, Bambisanani Coordinator at Mnyakanya High School said:
Cycling was not that familiar in our community until this initiative was introduced four years ago. Since then it has become part of the lives of many learners. During lockdown, when schools were closed, they were so excited to be using the bikes. I could not believe to see even the elder people in the community showing interest in cycling. Mnyakanya young cyclists inspired the elder, who in turn decided to fix and renew their old bikes that had never been used for years and years. Some of those old bikes were brought to these young cyclists to fix them. We do not have enough words to pass on our gratitude and thanks to the University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University for changing the lives of our young people.
Mnyakanya students are also in no doubt about the impact of this initiative. Bonginkosi Magwaza said:
Our lives are becoming easier with bikes. This is all very exciting! Almost all young people in my community like to learn cycling. We also use the bikes for sports and as a transport. Many people in this community have developed the love of cycling. People ride the bikes to work, to their relatives, to shops and others to school. Bikes are so helpful and save money.
Parallel to the impact on the recipients of the bikes, the impression on the skills and values of the UK students is huge. Skills auditing before, during and after the intervention saw students develop 10 top graduate level skills by an average of 31% from start to completion. ‘I’m proud to say I helped teach 30 kids how to ride a bicycle in just a few days. I am however even prouder to say that a group of 30 kids have taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I discovered the perseverance the children had as well as the importance of Zulu culture in those same couple of days!’ said Frankii Darko, a University of Leeds student who visited Mnyakanya in 2018.
Despite an unscheduled pause in the project this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic both here in the UK and in South Africa, the legacy of the last four years continues. Since 2016:
- 70 used bikes have been refurbished and shipped to Mnyakanya High School with the support of University of Leeds Security & Sustainability and Cardinal Maritime
- 80 new bikes have also been purchased and shipped through student and staff fundraising and the Bambisanani Partnership
- Tools and comsumables to the value of £10k have also been provided thanks to the support of the Rob Stephenson Trust
- Over 120 South African children have been supported to learn to ride and maintain bikes
- 59 University of Leeds & Leeds Trinity students and staff have been involved in the project
Andrew Lockwood, who is now a Trustee of The Bambisanani Partnership said:
Setting up the bike hub at Mnyakanya has been hugely beneficial to all involved, not only the recipients of the bikes, but also the University staff and students who are able to develop outstanding professional skills and personal values through this unique challenge. The hub is now clearly embedded at Mnyakanya & in the surrounding community and we now hope to expand the project to further rural schools in the area over the next few years.
David Geldart Founder and Chair of the Bambisanani Partnership added:
This initiative has clearly had a remarkable impact both on those receiving the training and those providing the training. Andrew and the university teams deserve enormous credit for pioneering this inspirational work. It has been absolutely wonderful to see cycling introduced to this remote rural area. For the Mnyakanya students, and indeed in the wider community, we have seen a growing interest in cycling as a mode of transport, for sport, recreation, fitness training and for some, a source of employment! There is a real desire in the community for this initiative to grow further and indeed in other communities for it to be introduced. It really has been a tremendous success; I would like to congratulate and thank everyone involved for making this amazing project happen.
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