Founder of Your Bike Project Camden, Raqhib Islam

Your Bike Project: fixing social problems two wheels at a time

Meet Somers Town native Raqhib Islam

A Camden native, Raqhib Islam is well attuned to the reality young residents are experiencing today. It’s this innate understanding which makes Your Bike Project such an impactful initiative, providing young people with opportunities around cycling to support social cohesion, and teaching them skills to carry with them far beyond their youth.

Back in the early 2000s, before the Tory-Lib Dem coalition came to power, Raqhib speaks of the services on offer to young people. “There were always provisions, trips, activities,” he says. “There was a lot to do. I did so many projects I can’t even count anymore.” Thirteen years since the Tories’ aggressive policy of austerity restarted, services for young people have been gravely cut. “Today’s young people have inherited problems that we never even had,” Raqhib states.

It’s now left up to social enterprises like Your Bike Project to ensure Camden’s young people have somewhere to gain skills crucial for a chance at social mobility, in a city and country that’s increasingly seeing opportunities for upwards movement restricted.

Born out of a need for somewhere for Raqhib and his friends to fix up their bikes, he proposed the original idea of Your Bike Project at a summer club back in 2009, aged just 13. Returning to Camden in 2018 after finishing his degree, the appetite for the project had grown further.

“People in the area would come up to me; young people, parents, all saying can you fix my bike, I heard you’re the bike guy,” Raqhib chuckles. “And I was like am I the bike guy? I just fix my own bike.”

inspecting a bike at Your Bike Project Camden

Originally serving as a pop-up in Regent’s Park providing cycling proficiency and safety, Your Bike Project now offers young people in the community a bike to fix up and use themselves. The goal is to give out over 100 such bikes this year.

“As a young person I was lacking so much self-esteem and confidence,” Raqhib reflects. “I wouldn’t speak up for myself.” In this vein, the project is about increasing confidence in young people as much as it is about cycling.

Throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns, the work of Your Bike Project was invaluable. “Local people got together to focus on young people having flexible jobs. JustEat and UberEats were a big priority for us because people were low on cash, on furlough, with no jobs. Financial insecurities we can’t even fathom. A priority for us during that period was that bikes were being fixed by young people and they were involved in flexible jobs.”

A Somers Town man through and through, Raqhib grew up in the heartland of a borough that has experienced acute redevelopment in the last 30 years. The changes have encroached on grassroots residents, pushing people out of the neighbourhood and driving crime into more concentrated areas, such as Somers Town.

Working with young people every day, Raqhib shares how many of them are feeling alienated on their own turf, with one commenting how they don’t feel welcome in places like Granary Square, as ‘they can smell the working class on me.’

fixing a BMX mike Your Bike Project Camden

Diving further into the lived experiences of young people in Camden today, there is a sentiment of abandonment, of being forgotten in the shadows cast by the glossy new buildings. “The only thing we can do is actively listen, because we don’t want anyone to feel like they’re being dismissed,” says Raqhib. “One thing we advocate is being a safe space. We socialise our young people to understand what it means to be in a professional environment, because we don’t want them to be left behind. We want them to ensure that there is prosperity in our community. We want to encourage social mobility. But who is going to come to our community and ensure that our young people know what opportunities are available to them?”

For someone who gives so much to others, what does cycling give to Raqhib? “It makes me feel like I’m flying,” he answers. “That’s what it is. I see a car next to me. I see a bus behind me. And I just think to myself wow these guys haven’t even made it down the road yet.”

While Your Bike Project enables physical freedom and mobility, it simultaneously endows social and mental power, which is growing harder for young people to garner. “The issues I had as a young person in the community are not the same anymore,” Raqhib considers. “The only way that we’re changing things is through local people taking charge themselves.”

Raqhib Islam is an exceptional man and Your Bike Project provides an invaluable service. This is not another group of white middle-class men in Lycra, it is out there transforming real lives.

Your Bike Project team

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