A BIKE project that gives homeless people vital skills to help them turn their lives around has had a hole in its finances plugged by a coronavirus grant.

The Julian House Bike Workshop in Trowbridge has been awarded £8,600 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund towards running costs after it lost vital income during the pandemic.

Workshop staff run six-week courses that teach bike repair and servicing, aimed at giving people from across the area suffering complex emotional problems, mental health issues and addiction the skills to set them on the road to employment.

The project had been hoping to become self-funding in the next year, but that has been put back 12 months, although the bike sales and repair operation at Duke Street, Trowbridge, has been able to remain open.

Hannah Parry of Julian House said: “The reason why we have this project is that people with really complex needs who may have experienced trauma or very difficult life circumstances really need a service tailored to them that is non-judgemental. Our staff are trained to work with people from challenging backgrounds.

“The courses are practical, which is good for people who may not have great literacy skills, and they offer AQA accreditations. At the end of the course we offer them one-to-one employment support to help them get to the next stage.”

The support includes help finding job placements, volunteering opportunities and further training. As well as practical skills, the course gives participants confidence and the experience of working as part of a team.

By the time the pandemic is over it is expected it will have made finding work even tougher for those with little experience, said Ms Parry. “This project was badly needed before Covid but now the need is even greater because the market is becoming even more saturated after so many people lost their jobs,” she added.

“The result is that there are going to be many more people going for jobs, many with more recent experience who are much more likely to get them than people who have been unemployed for more than ten years. It is pushing the people we want to help even further away from employment – and it is those people who will get hit the hardest if they don’t get the support they need. That’s why this grant is so important.”

Many of the 50 people a year who are referred to the project, by housing support groups, probation services and mental health and substance abuse groups, are either sleeping rough, sofa surfing or at risk of being made homeless. Their ages range from 19 to 65.

“Julian House believes that, after 34 years of working in this field, the most sustainable way of keeping people away from homelessness is employment, so this course is a really important tool for doing that,” said Ms Parry.

Julian House fundraising and PR director Cecil Weir said: “The bike workshop has a great track record for providing really good work experience and training for some of the most marginalised individuals in society. In addition to the experience and skills that they acquire, the benefit of boosting self-esteem cannot be overstated. Huge thanks to Wiltshire Community Foundation for recognising the value of what we are doing."

Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “This project delivers really important skills that can help people turn their lives around. Its job, and the lives of the people it aims to help, has been made harder by the pandemic and we are really pleased to support it.

“So many charities and grass roots groups are facing the same challenges, which is why our fund is just as important now as it was when we launched it last March.”

To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.