OCC Greece’s bike service: paving the way to inclusion for the refugee population

In a town like Polykastro, where the public transport service is limited, moving around through long journeys becomes complicated and often tiring, unless you have your own means of transport. This is mostly true for the refugees of the Nea Kavala camp, whose financial resources are rather limited. To overcome this obstacle, the Open Cultural Center team has made available a free Bike Rental service. It was originally operated in a partnership with the NGO A Drop in the Ocean, the service became of exclusive management by OCC in September 2019.

An open space for the community

Bike Space is open to everyone in the community, regardless of their nationality, their gender or their religion and it is located at 190 of Megalou Alexandrou, Polykastro’s main street, next to the organisation’s other spaces. 

One of the people registered in the Bike Space project renting a bike. / Photo: Open Cultural Center

Around 1.680 people have been registered in the project since its start. In August 2021, eleven new people will enjoy the service. After having been signed up for free during the weekly registration day, usually on Wednesday, users can borrow one of the 60 bikes available at OCC’s center, without any fee. They can use it up to a limit of 4 hours per day during the week. On Fridays, they can rent a bike for the weekend and bring it back on Monday. 

A project where you can learn

However, in addition to providing a community transport service, OCC’s Bike Space has given to many volunteers opportunities to learn new skills, with workshops aimed at teaching how to ride a bike, for the ones that never had the chance to learn it in their native countries, but also how to fix damaged ones, as now all the reparations are carried by an internal team without external intervention: “Before I came to Polykastro I knew nothing about fixing bikes” – says one of the team members – “Now I can definitively say I have learned a lot: flat tires, broken handlebars, brakes, no bump is a problem to me anymore”.

Two volunteers of OOC Greece in Bike Space fixing a bike. / Photo: Open Cultural Center

Although it is located in Polykastro, Greece, this project has also served our beneficiaries in our offices in Barcelona, Spain. There, we offer a technology course called MigraCode that teaches migrants and refugees how to code and become junior programmers. This year, some of our students at MigraCode had the opportunity to use the OCC Bike Service in Polykastro as the topic of their final project. They used coding to create “OCCycling”, a new tech tool created specifically for the project that is now being used in the Bike Space in Polykastro to make registering people and borrowing bikes easier. 

Looking ahead, there are already plans for a second renting point in Nea Kavala. OCC is planning to reopen the old center, active during the co-management with Drop in the Ocean which is currently closed. Indeed, our project is growing. We have recently made an agreement with our partners HamburgerHilfsconvoi, who will donate more than a hundred bikes to the OCC Bike Center. This NGO is currently raising money to make the shipment of the bikes possible. To support the initiative, Hamburger Hilfs Convoi has created a platform online.