How award-winning Sheffield bike shop owner offered a 'lifeline' to NHS staff and cyclists during lockdown
In 2015, the life of Henry Nottage changed forever as he was delivering part of a Landrover to an engineers on Catch Bar Lane.
“We saw a ‘for sale’ sign in the window of Tony Butterworths,” he says, “so we went in and learned they were having to vacate the building.”There’s been a bike shop on the corner of Catch Bar lane since 1945, when a car repair shop switched to the lucrative post-war bicycle trade. Tony Butterworth took over in the 1960s, focussing on racing bikes while his brother David carried on with more utilitarian options at the old shop still going strong on Abbeydale Road.But after 70 years, the Hillsborough cycling landmark for cyclists across the north was in peril.Following a colourful life (motorcycling across North Africa, failing to become a professional rock climber, pioneering data analysis for local authorities, conserving newts, and motorcycling across the world again to return home with a new life partner) Henry and colleague Mike Andrews, an established bike mechanic, were up for a new challenge.“It seemed impetuous to say yes straight away, so we went across the road and had a bacon sandwich, then walked back in and said: ‘Yes, we’ll have it.”Last week, Henry and Tony Butterworths scooped up the national Cycle More Entrepreneur Award, part of the Sudocrem Cycle More campaign to encourage British families to cycle more often.“The entrepreneur award recognises that cycling shops have become a bit of a lifeline during the pandemic,” said award spokesperson Vicky Proctor. “Tony Butterworth’s has been a stalwart presence through this difficult year, remaining open for the duration of three lockdowns, and even offering free bike services to NHS staff.”Henry’s wife, Sophi, (rescued from the other side of the world by motorcycle, you may remember) is a nurse, and spent much of 2020 working in the midst of the Covid pandemic. When Henry learned that bike shops were allowed to stay open, he recognised that nurses and medical staff like his wife would be avoiding the Covid risks of public transport, so he offered free servicing for NHS staff to help them travel by bike instead. Suppliers also chipped in to offer free helmets and jackets. (A 5 per cent discount for NHS staff still applies at the shop).“There was a huge surge in demand in 2020, with a lot of bikes being taken out of sheds, and a 40 per cent increase in demand for bikes and components across the world,” says Henry.But the nature of the global bike business, dominated by large manufacturers planning years ahead, meant supply couldn’t cope, he adds, with the makers only now setting up large new factories.Smaller bike shops are now struggling to source cycling raw materials, so Henry and Mike have had to stockpile parts to cope with “a tsunami of bicycles”.“I really really hope that the demand will continue,” he says, “as more people cycling is critical to our survival as a species, without wanting to be too dramatic.”Henry thinks the quickest way to get more Sheffielders cycling and walking would be a city wide network for active travel.
Last week saw new consultations to improve the Outdoor City’s transport network for walkers and cyclists, with a route for easier walking and cycling along the Sheaf Valley and ‘active neighbourhoods’ in Crookes and Nether Edge.Henry already uses the first sections of the city centre network completed last year. The Grey to Green route through town is slower than riding down the main roads, he says.“But personally I absolutely love it. I’d rather be five minutes later to work after cycling along a river and by some flowers instead of getting there earlier because I went down the A61,” he says.“And when I travel through Kelham now, the difference in pollution is astounding, and it has a lovely continental feel.
"I think it’s going to be great for businesses down there.”It’s been an eventful start as Catch Bar Lane’s latest bike shop owner.“I’d been asking myself what to do with my life,” he says.
“And the bike shop was the right answer.”See: https://connectingsheffield.commonplace.is and https://tonybutterworths.com