Salt of the Earth: Meet John Rowe and the Harrogate team turning old boneshakers into trusty bikes

In the latest of our Salt of the Earth features, reporter Louise Perrin meets the founder of Resurrection Bikes, John Rowe. John leads a team of hard-working and dedicated volunteers who bring unwanted bikes back to life and raise money for charity in the process - and now they need your help...

By Louise Perrin
Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 3:47 pm
Updated Friday, 11th September 2020, 4:56 pm
Paul Randalls, Adrian Rees and John Rowe at Resurrection Bikes

The Harrogate Advertiser’s Salt of the Earth feature has sought to find people who make a difference to their neighbours and community.

People who give up an incredible number of hours to look after those around them.

There are people who care for their neighbours, cooking meals and popping round to do the ironing or clean for them.

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John Rowe with one of the bikes being repaired

There are those who run youth groups and Scouts and sports teams, and then there are those who give up their time to raise money for charity in the most unusual of ways.

John Rowe is one such person. John is the founder of Resurrection Bikes, a volunteer-run organisation that aims to bring unwanted bikes back to life and raise money for charity in the process.

John explained how the initiative started: “It’s a long story. My daughter was fundraising for a gap year. She was given a bike and I did it up and stuck it on Gumtree.

“Soon there was a never ending flow of bikes to do up and after her gap year we started selling bikes for charity.

The team are always looking for bikes to repair

Talking to John, it's hard not to be impressed by his dedication and enthusiasm. He is, however, very keen to stress that it is a team effort.

He said: “It’s mostly retired people who come here, but we do have some working people who do a four day week and come in once a fortnight.

“Pre-lockdown we were also working with young people doing the Duke of Edinburgh award and we have one lady on the team.

“A lot of people have cycling backgrounds . People who want to do things with their hands.

“There are almost as many reasons for coming here as there are people. “

Resurrection Bikes currently has around 35 volunteers who all give up time to get bikes back on the road.

“We made £54,000 for charity last year. It’s over ten years now since it started in my garage.”

Resurrection Bikes operates from Wescliffe Hall. The Kairos Church operates upstairs alongside the community hall while John and his team operate downstairs.

John said: “We fix around 750 bikes per annum and give away the same again to other charities.

“Most people do a day or an afternoon a week. We are struggling to fix enough at the moment.

“Pre-covid we would be here Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, with 5-7 people here each day, but now it’s more fragmented.

“We have smaller teams who come in every day. We can’t bring customers inside, so we’re doing sales by appointment only through the back gate.

“We don’t do marketing because I can’t keep up with the demand.”

“The charities we support include Artisan International which is run by the incredible Susie Hart who went out to a church in Tanzania to help people with disabilities and ended up employing 125 disabled people.

“We also support In2out which was started by local people working with young offenders in Wetherby, encouraging them not to go back to their old ways.

“They have about a 25% reoffending rate as opposed to 75% which I believe is the national average.”

“We also support Aid to Eastern Europe which takes second-hand ambulances to Eastern Europe, we support them.

John said they are always looking for more bikes: “We take anything bike shaped in any condition - just leave by the side gate any time.”

The thing that they are desperate for however is storage. John said: “In summer can’t keep up with demand. In winter we overflow with bikes.

“We need free secure storage facilities in Harrogate, so if anybody could help with that we’d ask them to please get in touch via our website - either contact us or phone.

If you can help, or if you’d like to find out more you can checkout the website at www.resurrectionbikes.org.uk

A team of 35 bringing bikes back to life

Adrian Rees and Paul Randall are just two of the men who are instrumental in repairing the vast array of bikes which are donated.

Environmental consultant, Adrian, said: “I originally got in touch with John to drop some spare kit off and asked him about volunteering opportunities. John checked out what my competency was and I got involved.

“I’ve always like messing about with bikes, I enjoy giving something back and it’s good for my mental health.

“Since lockdown the bikes have been flying out the door, from what I’ve seen it does seem to be predominantly adults that are buying them.

“There are occasions when a whole family come in. The industry is reporting record sales throughout lockdown.”

The Bicycle Association has stated that there has been a 63% increase year on year in sales between April and June this year.

Paul has been cycling for many years and has been involved with Resurrection Bikes since 2015.

He said: “John is the main driving force. He makes sure that everything is on cue here. He’s the fat controller who controls the website and the scheduling and Q & A and all that.

You need someone with that vibrant energy to take it on.”

“We have a checklist for every bike and systematically go through and work out what’s not working and repair or replace as necessary to ensure that the bike is in good running order.

“A member of the team will go through quality assurance and then we put it for sale on the website.

“There’s not a massive stock on the website at the moment, sometimes we have to get a bike ready for people. We can’t always keep up.

The qualified nurse retired 18 months ago having worked as a ward manager and specialist nurse at Harrogate Hospital.

There’s something strangely poetic that he has gone from healing people to healing bikes. He said: “There’s a satisfaction If something’s not working to get it working. It makes for an interesting day.

“All of the bikes are donated, but we have to purchase parts. If it needs a new innertube, you need a new inner tube, but John's very good at sourcing online and getting the best price.

“It’s incredible what people donate, there are some really high profile bikes that we sell at an appropriate price for that level of bike.”

A joy to ride

Photographer Richard Jemison was working when he first came across Resurrection Bikes, but it wasn’t long before the passionate cyclist found himself eyeing up his next ride.

Richard said: “I said to him ‘I’m after a bike, I don’t suppose you have anything really posh?’ (My current bike was £700) and they took me upstairs.

“Inside it’s just like Halfords. Really impressive! They showed me this bike, it was carbon fibre and light as a feather for £8-900, I checked it out online and new it’s a £2,700 bike. So I came back the following week in my car to pick it up!

“It’s hard to believe that somebody donated it for nothing to charity. It’s a joy to ride. I’ve been riding around the county on it ever since.

“I regularly cycle a 50km route, and I’ve taken 15 minutes off my personal best. That must be down to the bike because I’ve not got any better!”

Graham Carter purchased two bikes, one for himself and one for his grandson. He said: “They’re good bikes and they weren’t expensive. I gave my old bike to them so they could do it up”

“My grandson and I have started cycling the Ripley to Starbeck cycleway together. He’s nine now and his confidence is growing.

“I’m really pleased. They’re very good bikes at a much cheaper price. The people who donated them in the first place should be thanked.”

“If they hadn’t been here we’d have had to look around, we couldn’t have afforded new ones, I’m very happy to endorse Resurrection Bikes.”

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