The History of Bikeworks

In its short history Bikeworks has already achieved a significant amount making a positive difference to the lives of many thousands of people, winning numerous awards and expanding the reach of its work outside of East London.

Bikeworks 1.0

Bikeworks was registered as a company in September 2006, began trading in 2007 and opened its first premises in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets in the spring of 2008.

The founding partners developed Bikeworks because they saw the strong potential for cycling to make a positive difference to the lives of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Jim Blakemore and Zoe Portlock put together a business plan, secured some funding and began delivering a range of community based cycling. At the same time Dave Miller was developing a similar cycling focussed social enterprise in the same area of London.

After meeting up Jim and Dave decided they could achieve more by working together and so there was a ‘marriage’ of two start-ups out of which grew the successful organisation operating today. Dave left Bikeworks in 2014 but Jim still leads Bikeworks with Zoe, the boards and management team providing support.

Bikeworks 2.0

In 2011 we had to relocate due to our first HQ being redeveloped into luxury flats! We moved from Gun Wharf to a large high street site spread over 7000 square foot. We would be based in Bethnal Green for the next 7 years and the organisation grew quickly during this period. With additional investment from the Social Business Trust, London Reuse Network and a replication plan based around scaling our retail / training and recycling arms.

Over this period we opened 4 retail shops and further training centre taking our total to 3. We also added a second All Ability hub in Little Wormwood scrubs and began working in the Olympic park post London 2012 Olympics. What we learnt during this time was invaluable, we piloted programmes, failed at some, but ultimately grew our impact and laid the foundation for future years.

By early 2017 we started restructuring the organisation due to our retail stores not performing as we had hoped and rather frustratingly discovered a redevelopment of our current site was on the horizon in the next 12 months. Bethnal Green was changing rapidly with Crossrail being a key driver.

Bikeworks old team photo

Bikeworks 3.0

We are now in Bikeworks 3.0, a strategic phase borne from the gentrification of Bethnal Green and our home for 7 years. We wanted to use this upcoming move to reevaluate all of Bikeworks’ programmes and really focus in on the ones which have impact and those which would allow us to support ourselves and not be overly dependent on grants and government funding. As such we wanted to build the programmes that allowed us to truly maximise the benefits of being a social enterprise and run commercial programmes that had their own impact but which would also in turn provide support for our solely impactful work.  We also determined which location would provide us with the most opportunity to grow sustainably. Further, we wanted to be able to build on our 12 years of experience delivering All Ability cycling by establishing a centre of excellence. This goal alone made it clear that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park should be our new home, aside from the commercial and aspirational benefits the Park could offer.

After months of negotiation, we were lucky enough to secure space inside the Lee Valley VeloPark. This is a great venue for Bikeworks to be based in and offers us brilliant opportunities to grow our commercial activities such as teambuilding and maintenance courses while expanding our impact and making the venue and the park accessible to all. 

What is a Social Enterprise?

A social enterprise is a company limited by guarantee rather than shares. It operates with social interest in mind and is a not-for-profit company, meaning any profit made by the business is put back into the programmes rather than into shareholders pockets.

Social enterprises have boards of trustees which holds the operational staff, including the CEO, to account. Regular meetings are held by the board which senior management attend to ensure the company is being run appropriately and is financially sound.

As a social enterprise, a company can fund itself by selling goods and services and is therefore not wholly reliant on donations and grant income. Bikeworks is a social enterprise rather than a charity, partly for this reason. We believe that this business structure allows us to have a significant impact on our community, while allowing us to be dynamic and try out new programmes which might have even more impact.

Bikeworks does apply for grants, particularly for our All Ability cycling programme and our employment and training programme. These are our two most impactful programmes and as such are most suitable for more traditional funding models. In the past we have been more reliant on external funding, with about 20% of our income coming from funding sources and 80% of income being generated by our own business activities.

We also accept donations, both financial and temporal, from people who wish to support our work and we use them in the same way a charity would. The main difference is that we are not eligible for gift aid.