A New Bike Store Helps Former Drug Users Beat the Cycle of Addiction

“We believe that if you invest in job opportunities, you get social return,” says Stuart Fraser in his Scottish accent, speaking on the phone last Friday.

For the last 25 years, Fraser has been working in healthcare and social enterprise between Scotland, England, and Ireland.

He’s now the project director at Frontline Make Change, a charity that works with people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction around Bluebell and Inchicore.

“There’s a long history of problematic drug and alcohol use within the area,” he says.

Dublin’s first methadone prescribing chemist was located in the area, says Fraser.

Frontline Make Change has been working here since 1999, providing people in the area with addiction services, counselling and family support programmes.

In the middle of September, they’ll open up a new venture, Frontline Bike, an upcycling bike shop aimed to bridge a prevalent gap between addiction recovery and employment.

While doing this, Fraser hopes the social enterprise can tackle sustainability problems caused by the mainstream bike market.

The Bike to Work scheme often results in people buying expensive bikes that they are afraid of using around town, he says.

“People want a run around bike that they can use for work,” says Fraser.

“Our tagline is going to be ‘do good, buy social,’” says Fraser. “[…] What we are hoping to do is to carry out a unique selling point.”

Falling Between the Cracks

From years of working with people in addiction recovery, Fraser noticed a problematic trend, namely that employers didn’t want to hire people with long gaps on their CVs.

“When they come out the other side, after doing all that hard work, they want to re-enter society and we found that’s where there was a problem,” says Fraser.

When mainstream employment won’t accept people who have come through addiction, it can seem that there are limited employability options available to them.

What tends to happen is some people with an addiction think there’s only one place that accepts them — addiction services, says Fraser. So they end up seeking employment in that industry.

Fraser saw some of the people he worked with go to college to study addiction.

“Sometimes that is not necessarily the best route to take. Sometimes when they return to these therapy jobs it can re-traumatise them,” he says.

In 2012, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction compiled a report highlighting the challenges associated with addiction and finding employment.

“56 % of those entering outpatient and 75 % of those entering inpatient treatment in 2009 reported being either unemployed or economically inactive,” the report says.

It goes on to state that people suffering from addiction are more likely to lose their job and less likely to find employment after.

Giving People a Sense of Self-Worth

Employment is more than just a source of income for some people, he says.

“It’s really about giving people self-worth,” says Fraser.

Having a job is an opportunity for education, upskilling and re-introducing people to society, he says.

On top of this, by investing in job opportunities you get social return, Fraser says.

It costs the taxpayer far more to put somebody in jail for a year rather than investing in a supported employment opportunity, he says.

Understanding the lack of job opportunities after addiction services and the importance that employment plays in the path to recovery, Fraser thought of a way to fill this gap.

On Your Bike

As Frontline Bike prepares to open, old bicycles are being repaired in Bluebell, repainted and upcycled by people who have come through the addiction services.

Soon they will be sold from the Frontline Make Change centre on Emmet Road in Inchicore.

“All the profit that we make is not capital share. Basically every cent that we make will get reinvested back into helping people,” says Fraser.

Fraser says he plans to use the money made by Frontline Bikes to train more people that have come through addiction services.

This idea is not groundbreaking by any means but it serves a number of purposes, he says, and will help some people fill a gap on their CV.

“A lot of the people that we work with are really good with their hands anyway,” says Fraser.

Frontline Make Change put some of their clients into the City & Guilds Bike Mechanic course, which is accredited by the Irish Professional Bicycle Association and teaches people how to repair bikes.

The process begins in Bluebell, Dublin 12.

Bikes are donated by recycling companies, An Gardaí Síochána and the general public.

“So then they strip the bikes. They’ll assess them, look at parts and make sure the frame is secure,” says Fraser.

After this each bike will be sprayed matte black and branded with a frontline sticker.

“Then they will be brought down to the Inchicore shop for the final build and then put on sale,” says Fraser.

A Gap In The Market

Frontline bikes is also an opportunity to tackle a culture of throwing away bikes in Dublin, Fraser says.

“You walk around Dublin and you see so many abandoned bikes just fastened to a railing,” says Fraser.

Fraser thinks that they can fill a gap in the market created by the Bike to Work scheme.

People will generally get an expensive bike with the Bike to work scheme which can deter people from using it for commuting for fear of robbery, he says

“People get fed up with the bike to work scheme and they’re saying ‘for town what we actually want is a little hipster run around’,” he says.

There’s a comfort in riding a bike worth €150 or €200, Fraser says.

“If it gets stolen it’s not the end of the world,” he says.

The main selling point of this social enterprise is different to any other bike shop, he says.

“There’s going to be a story behind your bike. You’re not just investing in the environment or in yourself. You’re also investing in a human being and helping yourself recover,” says Fraser.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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