Profile: Oscar and the Hidden Bike Workshop

By Charly Görl

Oscar in front of the RE_CYCLE workshop in the dorms. Photo by Hal Wiersma Tatham

— RE_CYCLE, the small bike repair shop in the centre of the dorms, is part of a network of social enterprises. The company employs people with disadvantaged job prospects and thereby gives them an opportunity to start a new career. Oscar, RE_CYCLE Science Park’s werkbegeleider (work supervisor), has been part of RE_CYCLE for over a year and now shares his experiences with working in the dorms. For privacy reasons, Oscar prefers to be referred to only by his first name.

Oscar is a trained bike mechanic and worked at a regular bike workshop for several years. A year ago, however, he decided to change his employment: “I realised that something was missing in my job, the contact that you have with people. I am not so interested in just having a customer-shop owner relationship with people.”

At RE_CYCLE, Oscar works with people who have not been employed for a long time and try to get back on track. Most of his co-workers either struggled with drug or alcohol abuse in the past or have a developmental or psychological disorder like autism. These conditions complicate the process of finding a job elsewhere. 

RE_CYCLE’s employees receive training to become certified bike mechanics and simultaneously learn how to stick to a routine and gain structure in their daily lives. Oscar gives an example of how his co-workers can personally and professionally profit from their employment: “If someone is autistic, they will always be autistic. But this person might find out that they can use the focus that some autistic people have to do very small repairs. They can find strength in this social weakness.” He states that RE_CYLE’s approach is to help a person develop a perspective based on what they are capable of.

Oscar believes that it is important for his co-workers to become certified bike mechanics: “They can say that they are bike mechanics just as good as any other bike mechanic in the city.” During their training at RE_CYCLE, employees learn how to repair bikes with their own hands, without the help of others. Apart from the advantage a proper profession brings on the job market, being proud of themselves and their work adds to the employees’ self-confidence. 

RE_CYCLE’s employees may have made small missteps in their lives, missteps that could happen to anyone. Oscar likes the approach of regaining a structured life by learning a trade. He adds: “ It is a productive way because you let people improve something by their own force instead of telling them why they should do it in a certain way.” 

Oscar estimates that more than half of RE_CYCLE’s customers are students who live in the dorms. He appreciates the student community at RE_CYCLE Science Park, but the location and clientele also comes with disadvantages. As the workshop is quite hidden, it relies on mouth-to-mouth advertisement. And because students generally have less money than the average Dutch bike owner, they usually only ask for small repairs or look for the cheapest second-hand bikes on offer.

According to Oscar, choosing to let RE_CYCLE repair your bike has a positive impact on not only the project itself but also the people who receive a second chance by working there. Oscar explains: “It is important that people realise that by letting us do repairs or buying a bike here they also support this whole project. They support people trying to get back a job and to get their lives on the road again. For me, that would be an extra motivation.” 

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