Once upon a time, there was a friendly neighbourhood bicycle shop in South London. Then the big bad property developers came and evicted the cycle shop. But the cycle shop fought back and reopened in bigger, better premises. Life was good for the workers for 14 years or so, until new property developers came in the name of 'gentrification' and forced the company out once more. What would the poor oppressed workers cooperative do now? They got their heads together and came up with a plan: "Crowdfunding!" they exclaimed. And sure enough, one year later, Brixton Cycles looks set to live happily ever after with their brand new shop and café.
The story of Brixton Cycles' eviction and rebirth is set to become the stuff of legend. It's a genuine feel-good factor tale of triumph over adversity with a sprinkling of 'sticking it to the Man' for good measure. The last year has certainly been a journey for the workers co-op, and they're not out of the woods just yet, but life is certainly looking a lot more promising since they tentatively opened their new doors in Brixton Road on 27th February. Ride Velo spoke to Brixton Cycles' longest serving worker, Lincoln Romain, about fighting back from eviction once again.
"Would you believe there were no toilets here at all so we had to put in toilets for the staff, and customer toilets at the back," Lincoln revealed as we chatted over a latte in their new cafe, run by Look Mum No Hands! "I was amazed that this place (which used to be a supermarket) had no toilets whatsoever, and we couldn't figure out where the water came from either. So we had to re-route a lot of the plumbing and it turns out, where we thought the water was coming in, was the wrong place! So Thames Water came in only last week, this is after we'd plumbed everything in, so that's another thing that we're going to have to redo." Most fairy tales don't end with successful installation of toilets, but then this is real life!
The lack of conveniences wasn't the only unlikely problem that the team encountered during their move to Brixton Road. It turns out that there are three abandoned vehicles in the basement which can't be removed. Lincoln said: "There are still some teething problems that we're going through. When we arrived there was so much to do here. There's three cars in the basement and they're staying because they've taken out the lifts, so the only way to get them out is if you dismantle them. But it's a great basement honestly." Maybe they could sell the Morris Minors alongside the fixies...
Brixton Cycles launched a very successful Crowdfunding campaign back in October last year, to help cover the costs of the move. However, their target of £40,000 was just a fraction of the amount needed to keep the co-op afloat. "We're not sitting on pots of money, or stashes of cash, so a lot of the time it feels like hand to mouth actually. The Crowdfunding campaign brought us in over £60 grand. Last time our move cost us £80 grand. We worked out that this move was going to be about £120k. I mean Crowdfunding helps to pay for the stuff - if it weren't for the Crowdfunding or people pledging, we wouldn't be sitting here right now having this conversation." So where did the other half come from? "All the little things that we did all helped by there is still going to be a hole, but it's going to be so successful here that we're going to make it back in a month!" Well it was certainly very busy on the day of the soft launch, 27th February.
Publicity and support for the bike shop poured in, and at the end of the 30 day period they'd raised a total of £62,225 which was 155% of their target. In addition to the pledges, BC did a number of entertaining fundraising campaigns of their own. BC's Jim volunteered to shave off his famous beard - which as you can see he duly did! They gave away a Genesis Croix de Fer bike to one lucky pledger (not Ride Velo sadly though we tried!) and they held various fundraising parties and generally had a good time.
In addition to the hard cash pledged by people from across the globe, the public have been on hand throughout offering their help and free labour. "When we moved we had loads of volunteers - that's been amazing!" Labourers and carpenters have worked at reduced rates and their electrician, Stan, has been amazing. "It's still a work in progress. We have to finish off the lighting and parts of the plumbing." In fact Lincoln had had to call out Dynarod that morning to deal with a blocked drain in the basement. Other plans include finishing off the shop front and hopefully install some bike parking on the street.
Walking into the new shop for the first time, you can't help but feel excited by the impression of light and space throughout. This was really in stark contrast to their former shop next to the famous skate park in Stockwell Road which was a bit gloomy and absolutely bursting at the seems. "For us it's created a new space which we needed." The workshop area at the back looks enormous. Meanwhile the shop floor is spacious enough for kids to trial out their prospective purchases while adoring parents look on. The front is a generous café area run by Look Mum No Hands. There are changing rooms, a clothing section selling the iconic Brixton Cycles kit as well as a skateboard area. There's no doubt that the enforced move was a blessing in disguise.
The shop continues to sell all types of bikes to cater for every cycling tribe from the cool fixie dudes to the commuter to the hard core road brigade. Talking of which, the revival of BC means that their cycle club continues to thrive led by the ever enthusiastic club secretary Rob McCauliffe. They're a really friendly and open club, staying true to the whole co-op vibe. Their only rule: mudguards in winter!
Brixton Cycles has been, for some of the 12 or 13 staff, the mainstay of their lives and all they've ever known - for Lincoln it's been 26 years. But just as importantly, it's part of the local community, a community that's struggling to survive among the luxury, anonymous flats and developments that are springing up across the area.
So get down to 296-298 Brixton Road to check out the new premises. Have a coffee and some cake at the lovely café, soak up the atmosphere and grab a cool BC jersey for some street cred. By supporting this local bike shop you're actively promoting a real community spirit in a fantastic part of London that's in danger of losing its identity without you doing so!