Former paramedic's journey from saving lives to rescuing bicycles

Jonathan Alexander with a letter rack made from chains and cogs. Picture by Dean Atkins
Jonathan Alexander with a letter rack made from chains and cogs. Picture by Dean Atkins

He was once Sheffield's cycling paramedic - but instead of rescuing patients, Jonathan Alexander's now giving bikes a new lease of life.

Four years on since his final shift patrolling the city through Yorkshire Ambulance Service's axed Sheffield Cycle Response Unit, Jonathan is nurturing his craftsmanship by making homewares and gifts including key fobs, clothes airers, candle holders and letter racks with unwanted bicycle parts.

His fledgling business - CycleUpCycle - has been met with an enthusiastic response, and now he is concentrating on building his own workshop before increasing production.

"There has been lots of positive feedback, which is great," said Jonathan, aged 48, who lives in Crookes.

A former teacher and competitive cyclist, he manned the paramedic unit for five years from 2008, attending medical emergencies travelling by bike. He would arrive at an incident, carry out initial treatment and then call for back-up if required, working alongside other services including the police and city centre ambassadors.

But the ambulance service took Jonathan off the road in 2013, choosing to concentrate solely on conventional ambulances and rapid response vehicles.

He began lobbying to set up a bicycle paramedic service in the early 2000s, wanting a change of career and gaining inspiration from BMX champion Tom Lynch, who launched the first Cycle Response Unit in London. When on duty Jonathan could reach the railway station in a little over 30 seconds.

"Every time I'm in the city centre I speak to kids or the ambassadors and they say 'We really miss you'," said the married father-of-one.

"It's a real shame. But now I'm reviving bike parts and using my creative skills."

His first upcycling project was a clothes airer made from bike rims and chains. Friends soon spotted the device after he installed it at home, and he 'made a couple for them'.

"I can make stuff from most things apart from the frame and handlebars at the minute," Jonathan said.

"I use the rims, spokes, hubs, cables - and I'm thinking of other products to make out of tyres."

He has 'a good link' with Bike Rehab on Wellington Street in the city centre - "I occasionally trawl through their scrap" - and a neighbour works at popular dealer Langsett Cycles on Infirmary Road.

"And I find my own bits as well," said Jonathan, who has two brothers who work as bike designers.

"I just pick up the pieces at the other end."

The candle holders are made from twisted bike spokes, with the letter racks consisting of chains and cogs. Prices have been calculated on the time and materials involved.

"Some are quite quick to make, while others need a bit more painting, filing and building. The raw materials cost nothing which keeps the prices fairly low.

"A key fob costs £2.50 whereas a clothes airer means a lot more cutting, polishing and filing. They're £80, so a bit more pricey."

Jonathan is piecing together the workshop in his back garden using reclaimed wood. He had a stall at the most recent Sharrow Vale Market and took part in the Great UpCycle Fete, at St Mary's Church on Bramall Lane last Saturday.

"It's mainly friends or family of cyclists that are looking to buy these things," he explained.

"What I've found at the last couple of craft fairs is that people come along who know cyclists, and think they would like a gift for them for their birthday, or for Christmas. It's been really good. A lot of people have been saying how creative they are."

Visit www.cycleupcycle.co.uk for details.