It’s been a while since I’ve posted as we’ve been proper busy over here in windy Leeds setting up the brand new space for our bike coop – Pedallers Arms. The project has been homeless over the last few months after the closure of The Common Place, the social centre we used to run from. But now we’ve found ourselves our very own workshop, are open 3 nights a week instead of 2 and have started up a new monthly session for women and trans people.
The first women and trans session ran on Sunday and it was pretty great. It is something I’ve been really keen to get going for a while, having been inspired by other spokeswomen and projects in different cities such as Bristol Bike Project’s women’s night, Bloomers in Manchester and the brand new Freewheelers bike workshop in Lancaster.
This is not to say that Pedallers has an overtly macho atmosphere on normal sessions. Firstly, we are not a bike shop; we aim to empower people to fix up their own bikes and try to break down the gap between those perceived to be ‘skilled’, i.e. our core mechanics, and those ‘unskilled’ (project visitors). We aim to give access to groups under-represented within the cycling community, such as the many refugees and asylum seekers we regularly work with; women also fall into this category. The fact remains, however, that the majority of our mechanics are male, so we undoubtedly reproduce a sense of men being the ones with the knowledge, even if the project aims for this not to be the case.
I was excited to see what a difference it would make, not to have men in the space. I struggled at first with the marketing of the session; I’d spoken to many people, not just women but trans men and men from the queer community who expressed feelings of discomfort in the traditional workshop environment. I was keen therefore, not to make it solely for women. What I really wanted to say was ‘a session for anyone who isn’t male and straight and macho’ but I felt that wasn’t appropriate somehow…
I was slightly apprehensive before the session. What if no-one showed up because they didn’t think the session necessary? What if there was a question I couldn’t answer? Perhaps it was my politics or personal feminist agenda that led me to put on the session rather than any sense of demand from the community? It turned out to be a total success. The atmosphere was lovely, people were chatting and laughing, helping each other and seemed happy to ask questions about even the most simple tasks. The pace of the session was relaxed and upbeat. Everyone who came thanked us for putting on the session and everyone went away knowing something they didn’t before. As a mechanic I felt totally at ease and happy, more so than in our weekday sessions where I sometimes feel like I know less than others (not true!) or that I am unusual to be a female mechanic.
It’s definitely something we’re going to keep doing and by making connections with all the similar projects in other places, hope we can create a strong network of spokeswomen, getting skilled up all over the country. Bring it on!