Keeping key workers cycling during coronavirus

At Stolen Ride we originally believed (or hoped) that the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and ‘lockdown’ would result in a strong reduction in the number of stolen bike reports, as places of work shut their doors. Unfortunately this now does not appear to be the case.

As reported by the media and seen on the Stolen Ride social accounts, the constant theft reports have frustratingly included NHS and other key workers publishing about their stolen bikes.

Whilst this has been very sad to witness, it has been extremely heartwarming to see the response from individuals, brands and from new initiatives coming to the rescue of these theft victims.

Examples include fellow cyclists offering to lend a spare bike, or to contribute to a new bike. Even from people who have lost their jobs and have little to financially spare.

You may have also noticed reports about Luke Rowe and Chris Boardman offering replacement bikes. With the industry as a whole, brands are stepping in to help NHS staff including Brompton, Chain Reaction Cycles and Laka. When Laka, a partner of Stolen Ride, saw our post about a teacher who had her bike stolen, they stepped in and helped her (she is not even a customer of theirs!) with a replacement (her stolen bike is yet to be located).

On the new initiative side, one example is ‘Tour De Thanks’, which is using a community-focused approach to help NHS and other key workers. In the following in-depth interview with Stolen Ride, Lucy Wellings, a Paediatric and Adolescent Research Clinical Nurse Specialist, explains what @TourDeThanks is all about and how you can support it…

What is Tour De Thanks?

Tour De Thanks is an initiative to bring communities together and encourage people to offer their bikes to NHS staff or essential key workers.

Cycling to work will help provide a safe commute by avoiding public transport and unnecessary contacts, keeping NHS staff on the front line for longer and keeping the public safe.

These workers are going through the most stressful and unknown time in their careers, as we all know exercise and time outside is also very important not only for our physical health, but for our mental health.

Why did you start Tour De Thanks and what is your aim?

Tour De Thanks was created after I had my bike stolen, genuinely moments after having a discussion with my friends how I would make every effort to now not use public transport knowing this would reduce my chance of infection keeping me healthier for longer. 

Our aim is to spread the message, so many people are now in lock down with bikes sitting around in their hallways, their garages. If seeing our logo or twitter account makes one person think – I could lend this bike to someone in need then I know just through that one act of kindness, you’ve not only helped that one NHS worker have a safe commute, you’ve helped their family worry less about them using public transport, you’ve also helped the 100’s of patients that they will come into contact with over the coming months.

Tell us about yourself

I am a 28-year-old Northerner living in East London. I have been working at University College London Hospital for nearly two years now as their Paediatric and Adolescent Research Clinical Nurse Specialist (I know it’s a mouthful).

My role means I work within various medical teams running clinical trials to ensure that our patients and their families have the opportunities to participate and have access to breakthrough treatments, for example; Sickle Cell Disease, Thalassemia, Type 1 Diabetes, Obesity, Epilepsy and so on.

However due to COVID-19 I have now been redeployed to treat patients on the front line.

I started cycling a few years ago after getting my bike on the cycle to work scheme. Living in Leeds at the time and close to the canal using the bike for my commute was a relaxed ride. However, when I moved to London being road wary I tended to similarly stick to canals, local parks and short road distance. Now I’ve had to get over my fear of the roads as I need it to commute through Central London.

During a walk with a couple of friends through Victoria Park (before social distancing) my bike was locked up next to a café. During this walk we were all sharing our anxieties about COVID-19 and what we saw coming from two of us working in the NHS and the other’s parents both also NHS staff. We had just had the discussion about avoiding public transport when I looped back towards the café and straight away noticed that my bike was no longer parked and locked safely. In an already anxious state, having my bike stolen was quite soul destroying. The café had good CCTV so they told me to come back the next day to speak to the manager. I walked around the park for another 2 hours to see if it had been dumped anywhere to no avail, so I simply had to report it to the police and I will admit have a little cry.

That night I took to Gumtree and sure enough I found my bike being sold within a stone’s throw of where it have been stolen…but was it safe to try get it back? I certainly couldn’t afford to buy it back.

I also of course, told friends and family. Everyone was so supportive and truly understood the feeling of helplessness and I think in a time where people should be pulling together they were also a little enraged – so they took to social media to help me find a bike to use for my commute. The response was overwhelming. Social media has its problems, but it also has real power for good. Before I knew it I had friends, friends of friends and friends of friends of friends contacting me, reposting for me, offering me bikes, and even offering to go and fetch the bike (I even had a bunch of Navy men on HMS Elizabeth routing for me to get it back).

The ultimate sleuth in the story was a friend of my sister whom she hadn’t seen or heard from in years but who is a triathlete and a fellow bike enthusiast. He was so upset someone had stolen my bike he got in contact with the seller on Gumtree and managed to get this seller’s postcode and phone number for me. Armed with some ‘intelligence’ I updated the police and they agreed to send an officer to the address to meet me. We managed to get my bike back through a combination of the police officer being a bit of legend, and some undercover Bourne Identity moves from myself and a friend. I couldn’t believe it. I knew how rare it was to get my bike back after being stolen all within 24 hours!!

The response I had on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook was so heart-warming. It showed me how people can come together for each other in times of need and with the current situation with COVID-19 I don’t think we’ve seen such an example- certainly not in my lifetime. So many people offered to help that I wanted to channel that generosity into something practical and …voila, Tour De Thanks was created.

Here I need to give a special note of thanks to my friend Charlie who, despite just having lost her job to this awful virus, created an amazing logo for me overnight, offered bikes and is now helping to run the campaign.


Tour De Thanks & Lucy’s recovered stolen bike

If a NHS worker or essential worker has their bike stolen, how do they contact you?

We have set up an Instagram and Twitter account for the initiative. Please post and tag us if your bike has been stolen, or DM us and we will do our best to help you.

How do you get them on the road? 

Our aim is to match workers in need of a bike with someone that lives locally in their area where they can collect the bike off them whilst keeping in line with social distancing and reducing distance of travel.

As people can’t travel at the moment, can you explain any challenges?

This is a difficulty, which is why spreading the word so that we can have as many bikes to offer people in local areas will help. By keeping the lending to a shorter distance reduces risk, but also helps to increase that local community spirit. We would recommend that people lending bikes keep at a safe 2 m social distance, bikes are cleaned to a good standard before handing them over.

Do you involve bike brands? 

We have certainly been tagging bike brands in our social media posts, they are a great way to get the message spread further and have also been offering bikes to people who have contacted us which is great.

We have even had some contact from Halfords who are keen to use our TourDeThanks hashtag and to create a partnership for when they give bikes to NHS and essential workers.

How many key workers, or what % of key workers, need transport help?

I have noticed a sharp increase in NHS and essential worker bike thefts over the last few weeks. I’m sure it’s just through opportunity as we most likely have the majority of bikes out in the public, so there is definitely a growing demand for help. In the coming weeks as public transport is becoming fewer and far between I believe the need will grow even further.

As my hospital is close to Euston station, we have a lot of staff that travel into London. Working shifts on a reduced timetable is difficult either meaning you are travelling a lot earlier than needed or arriving late for shifts. Similar colleagues are now staying in London in various hotels spread around the City. This is due to transport issues around risk and availability but also to protect their families. Being around various parts of London also has increased the need for these workers to have a safe form of transport. I’m sure this will be a similar picture around the UK.

Do you have any success stories you can share?

Yes, we have had a few success stories, our first bike lending came from my own friendship circles. We then started to be contacted by people in need on Twitter especially.

We have helped a NHS worker who’s bike was stolen in central London. From making his post on social media, we were able to match him with someone in his local area and he was able to borrow a bike within 24 hours. Through us sharing people’s posts and tagging companies (especially if we haven’t knowingly got bikes in those areas) we have had many more given. Everyone being back on 2 wheels is a success!!

Are there any other initiatives like yours running at the moment?

Yes we have been in touch with one specifically GlosBikeProject who have been doing an amazing job providing bikes for NHS and essential workers in Gloucester. We are currently in contact and seeing if we can do some good together!

What can we all do to help? Is there anything you would like us to share?

We would love for the message to be spread further! We want to get our initiative out there so that NHS and essential workers know about us and that they can contact us if they need help and also to increase the bikes we have available to them!

If your followers have any bikes that are stored away or you wouldn’t mind lending to someone in your community please let us know! It would be great if you could contact us in a post, DM us and send a picture of your bike so that we can post it on our feed!

My last and final message is to STAY AT HOME and to exercise responsibly.

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