Gearing up to get second-hand bikes from Sheffield off to Gambia
Ten years ago, Mohammed Ayoub and his friends were looking for a new holiday destination.
“They asked if I fancied going to Gambia,” he said. “I’d never heard of it, but it seemed quite a cheap holiday, so I said I’d give it a try.”Two weeks after arriving on the West African coast he found himself organising (and paying for) digging machines to build a new well in a village near the hotel.“I’d decided to visit the villages nearby and after chatting to people, I saw they needed quite a bit of help. Families had no water facilities, and over there the diggers cost a very small amount, so I decided to help them.”Since then, Mo has visited Gambian villages many times, helping to build wells and schools, and taking container loads of household and engineering equipment (and recently rice and tinned food during the Covid pandemic).But he found that one of the most effective means of helping rural Gambians is the bicycle.“A bike can be a lifeline for a lot of people,” said Angela Walker from A Different Gear in Heeley, who help provide Mo with secondhand Sheffield bikes for Gambian villages.“Having a bicycle might be the difference between a kid being able to go to school, or not go to school,” she said. “It can open up the opportunity to learn and have a completely different life, just by providing that kid with a bike.”Since 2014, Mo and his Aid 4 Gambia charity team have transported around 500 bikes a year to West Africa, helping many hundreds of children cycle rather than take a 90 minute walk to school, and enabling up to 2,000 workers and college students to commute by bike rather than face an unreliable two hour bus trip.“There might be a small once a day minibus making the journey, but not everyone can get on it,” Mo explained.As the scheme progressed, many of Mo’s friends and family joined in to help along with local companies Sterling Commodities and Specialised Movers (who provide containers).Mo, who owns the MA Tooling engineering tools business in Attercliffe, set up the charitable work “because I can see the benefits it brings, and I just like to see people happy,” he said.“I come from a poor background myself, and I would have loved to have a bike as a young child, but we couldn’t afford one.”Most customers pay a small fee for their bike, to help cover costs, and the charity now employs six workers in Gambia, including mechanics fixing up donated bikes to use on rural African tracks.A Different Gear spruce up second-hand bikes to sell to Sheffielders at their Heeley shop, but their policy of taking in all donations means, as a social enterprise, some bikes are not economically viable to mend and sell on to discerning Outdoor Citizens.A previous arrangement with a national charity shipping bikes to Africa was costly as local bikes had to be transported to the charity’s base in Colchester, so when Angela discovered her Heeley neighbour Mo was running a similar charity, it was clear a local connection would benefit both parties.“It’s better for me, because I want to make sure there’s no room left in any of the containers,” said Mo. “Working with Angela means I can just fill it with bike parts and bits.”Second-hand bikes were in high demand last year following the worldwide cycling boom and Angela expects the better weather will see sales increase again. Buying a secondhand bike from A Different Gear helps the social enterprise flourish, she added, but donating one can also help Gambian people use a bike to improve their lives.“The bikes we need don’t have to look beautiful, as long as they’re fairly robust,” she said.The Heeley workshop takes in any bikes, but if you have an old mountain bike, wide wheeled hybrid, or reliable schoolkid’s bike, West Africa would love it.“We don’t want those old bikes going to landfill,” said Angela. “We want to do everything we can to get them back on the road.”Bikes can be left at https://www.adifferentgear.com in working hours or call 0114 2507717