Lessons from a UK Community Bike Cafe & The Vulture Guide: How to Start & Sustain a Bike Workshop & Recyclery
This session will draw some lessons from the story of Roll for the Soul, a non-profit bike cafe in Bristol, UK, which ran for five years from 2013 to 2017.
What worked? What did we get wrong? Would we have done anything differently if we'd have known how things would turn out? What would we tell other people thinking about doing something similar? Are there principles we’re glad we stuck to even though they didn't make for an organisation that lasted? How did we benefit from links with other DIY communities outside the bike world?
Hopefully a discussion of these questions will be useful in a North American context, for anyone interested in building community-focused organisations that generate their own revenue and aren't reliant on precarious grant funding and/or donated time and other resources.
Roll for the Soul grew out of two volunteer-led Bristol bike organisations, Bristol Cycle Festival (an annual week-long celebration of all things bike) and The Bristol Bike Project (a well-established bike recycling project and community workshop). It was an attempt to bring the spirit of these organisations to a wider and more mainstream audience, while maintaining their non-profit, DIY, community-led ethos. It was also an experiment in trying to run a trading business that was people- rather than profit-focused in an environment where that constitutes swimming against the tide.
The session will discuss the start-up process from initial idea, through business-planning and fundraising, securing premises and building a team, through to opening. It will then consider some successes and failures from our years of operation, before talking about the process of deciding to close, the reasons for that decision, and what it meant in practice for 14 staff and hundreds of customers.
The aim is to make this a participatory session, with attendees encouraged to offer their ideas on what can be learned from Roll for the Soul's story, and how future attempts at creating financially-sustainable bike-based DIY social spaces might do better.
Although Roll for the Soul is now closed, you can still view its website for more information. Anyone wanting to attend the session is encouraged to take a look at the site beforehand and consider what about the place looked good, what not so good, and anything they'd like to raise in the discussion. There's a statement about why we decided to close here.
(A note about the presenter. I was one of Roll for the Soul's founders and was managing director from day one until we handed our keys back at the end of the lease. I'm now on a year-long tandem tour around North America with Katy, my wife, who's taken some time off from her job as a dementia support worker. We’re really looking forward to meeting people at Bike!Bike! 2018 and hope that some of the stuff we've been involved in at home might be interesting to you. We have a blog if you'd like to check out what we've been doing on the first half of our trip in Canada and the USA. Thanks!)