By Elizabeth Minter

    More than 660 bicycles donated to people in need; 1300 bikes saved from landfill; 2400 bikes repaired; and more than 560 donated bikes sold to raise money for volunteer and bike education programs.

    The stats tell an impressive environmental story about Footscray’s Community Bike Hub (CBH) over its past four years. 

    But more powerful is the story about the social connections and the community identity forged; the experience it has given young people to the adult world; the introduction to a traditionally male-dominated field; and much more. 

    “The Bike Hub is a community resource that bridges the divide between diverse cultural communities, genders, and socio-economic groups,” says general manager Dom Zylka.

    “It is important to build that sense of community because here in the west are people from all walks of life, culturally and socio-economically. Bikes are a real leveller.”

    The Bike Hub is just one of many programs overseen by the Inner West Community Foundation (IWCF).

    For more than a decade, volunteers have been repairing bikes to donate to refugees and asylum seekers. Having started life in a laneway, the then Footscray Bike Shed, with support from the Rotary Club of Footscray, brought together bike enthusiasts and local service providers such as AMES Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. 

    In 2019, in partnership with IWCF, the Bike Shed applied for a state government grant through the Pick My Project scheme. The $100,000 grant enabled the group to employ mechanics and set up a bike shop, with the profits returned to the community. Thus the Community Bike Hub was born.

    The scheme has now expanded to include local families, with primary schools being the conduit. Tony McCulloch, a decade-long volunteer, was hard at work when we spoke, preparing the final few bikes to fulfill a request from Footscray Primary School for 28 bikes. 

    Last year, the Community Bike Hub and Footscray High School set up a partnership to deliver the Bike Academy Program, whereby all Year 9 students complete a two-week workshop at the Hub. Research shows that Year 9 is a difficult year for teachers and students, with hands-on learning in a real-life setting a powerful way of keeping youth engaged. Long periods of remote learning because of Covid lockdowns also meant few opportunities to access hands-on learning.

    “The results of the Bike Academy Program have been extraordinary,” says Kellie Catanese, the assistant principal at Footscray High’s Barkly campus. “All students across the spectrum, from high achievers to those at risk, have benefited enormously.” 

    For girls, the practical experience has fostered an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in a traditionally male-dominated area, while also giving students who are interested in a career in a trade valuable exposure. A number of students have also re-engaged with education after losing that connection during the lockdowns. 

    While the technical skills are valuable – using tools to strip bikes and repair parts and developing safe work practices – it is working in an adult environment and the associated lessons that are more powerful and long-lasting. It is not a theoretical project but has a real-life outcome.

    Says assistant principal Kellie: “Their confidence has grown enormously, and they come away from the program so much more engaged and enthusiastic.”

    As Dom, the Hub’s general manager explains, “This program gets kids to think about patience, persistence, learning from failure, and problem solving. The mechanical knowledge is a secondary component.”

    The start of the week is spent stripping bikes, while the second half is spent putting the bike together again, with an experienced mechanic always on hand to provide support. 

    “The kids are responsible for their own bike, and for signing off on their work, so they take it really seriously. Their name is on the card attached to the bike; they have to go through the checklists; do the repairs; and check everything is up to standard,” says Dom. 

    “We do the final check but the students know the bike is being picked up on the Saturday to be ridden away, so it really focuses their mind.”

    Kellie says many students are motivated by the social justice element – making something for people less fortunate than they are. Another valuable lesson is the sustainability message and the focus on repairing and reusing. Says Dom: “Here we live that ethos.” 

    Last year 320 Year 9 students completed the program; another 320 will complete it this year. 

    Dom says one has to see it to believe how engaged the students are. “One of us will call a break but some kids are so absorbed that they ask for permission to keep working.” Some students even arrive 45 minutes early because they are so keen. 

    Volunteer Tony says he loves being part of something so important and he never gets bored. “It is amazing what the kids get up to. They look at things differently, so I often learn from what they are doing. And it is great seeing their confidence and knowledge develop. They feel such a sense of purpose.”

    He adds: “I often let them go with what they are doing, even if I know it is not going to work out, because that is all part of learning. You have to let them do things their way so they keep interested.” 

    The Community Bike Hub also runs bike education programs in schools and repair workshops on weekends. While the huge growth in the Community Bike Hub’s popularity is a great story, the Hub desperately needs more space and/or larger premises. “We have outgrown this home,” says Dom. 

    Andy Moutray-Read, the CEO of the Inner West Community Foundation and chairman of the Community Bike Hub committee, is in discussions with Maribyrnong City Council to see if they can offer any solutions. In the meantime, the Community Bike Hub would also love to hear from local businesses or philanthropic organisations that might be able to help. 

    1300 BIKE HUB

    For more information about the Community Bike Hub school program:
    Dominik Zylka
    General Manager
    Community Bike Hub
    4 Mills Close Footscray
    (between VU and Footscray Park)

    The Community Bike Hub shop provides bike services, bikes, parts and accessories.
    38–40 Moreland St Footscray
    Opening Hours
    Monday–Friday 9am—5pm
    Saturday 10am—3pm
    Sunday Closed

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.

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    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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