The following article appears in the February 2015 edition of Cycling World magazine. Click here to read the whole magazine online.
Bespoke Cycles, near Wythenshawe in South Manchester, is not your ordinary cycle shop. Although its range includes some new and unused bikes, most of its stock is made up of previously-owned cycles, refurbished by a small team of apprentice mechanics. Many of these young men have been in prison or started life with a significant disadvantage – so you could say both bike and bike mechanic have been given a new lease on life.
Bespoke is part of the Message Enterprise Centre (MEC), an initiative of The Message Trust youth charity in Manchester. Opened in 2013, the MEC is a unique business hub designed to create new training opportunities and jobs for ex-offenders and other young people who need a second chance in life.
In the businesses – which also include an on-site café, a hair and beauty salon and a building maintenance company – experienced managers work alongside apprentices who receive on-the-job training and a salary. Some stay only for a short period of time until another opportunity opens up; others stick around and grow with the businesses.
‘Our team meets hundreds of young people every year who are serious about changing their ways,’ explains The Message Trust’s founder and CEO Andy Hawthorne. ‘But no matter how much we hope and pray for a particular young person to stay on the right track when they leave prison, if they go straight back to the same home town and the same circle of friends, with no job and no support, chances are they will eventually turn back to crime. The “revolving door” of prison really does exist, and too many people we cared about were getting stuck in it. So we decided we would do something about it.’
Over the last two years, the MEC has seen real success in helping ex-offenders and young people others have given up on. One such is Brian Curtis, who first came into contact with The Message Trust while he was in rehab following an increasingly destructive 17-year drug addiction.
‘From the age of 11, I was hanging around with the wrong people – burgling houses to begin with, progressing on to selling drugs,’ remembers Brian. ‘I was knocking about with the biggest gangsters in Newcastle, doing hundreds of pounds of heroin and cocaine a day. Obviously I did a lot of jail time.
‘It took until I was at rock-bottom before I saw the light. The last time I OD’d I had to be injected with adrenaline in my heart because I had technically been dead for three minutes. It was in a rehab centre called Betel where I found God and began to rebuild my life.’
Brian, who trained as a joiner while in prison, hopes to start his own furniture business in due course. But for now, Bespoke offers steady work, a safe place to live, a mentor and supportive colleagues.
‘It felt amazing to get my wage packet at the end of my first week’s work,’ he says. ‘It’s good to be working, learning new things, meeting new people. This is going to be a good year for me – a year of growth.’
Bespoke Cycles offers a range of new and refurbished cycles, bike parts and accessories. The shop can be found at the Message Enterprise Centre, Harper Road, Sharston, Manchester M22 4RG. They also offer a range of bikes for sale online through their eBay shop. Find out more at www.bespokemanchester.com