New bike shop helps ex-addicts beat the cycle of addiction

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

For the past 25 years Fraser has worked in healthcare and social enterprise between Scotland, England and Ireland.

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

“There is a long history of problematic drug and alcohol use in the area, he says.

The first pharmacy prescribing methadone in Dublin was located in the area, says Fraser.

Frontline Make Change has worked here since 1999, providing local residents with addiction services, counseling and family support programs.

In mid-September, they will open a new venture, Frontline Bikes, a recycled bike shop aimed at bridging the gap between addiction recovery and employment.

By doing so, Fraser hopes the social enterprise can address the sustainability issues caused by the mainstream bike market.

The Bike to Work program often tricks people into buying expensive bikes that they’re afraid to ride around town, he says.

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

“Our slogan will be ‘do good, buy social’,” says Fraser. “[…] What we hope to do is achieve a unique selling point.

fall between the cracks

After years of working with people in drug addiction, Fraser noticed a problematic trend that employers didn’t want to hire people with long gaps on their resumes.

“When they come out on the other side, after doing all that hard work, they want to get back into society and we found that’s where the problem was,” Fraser says.

When mainstream employment does not accept people with a substance abuse background, it may seem that the employability options available to them are limited.

What tends to happen is that some people with addictions think there’s only one place that accepts them — addiction services, Fraser says. So they end up looking for a job in this industry.

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

“Sometimes that’s not necessarily the best way to go. Sometimes when they go back to those therapeutic jobs, it can re-traumatize them,” he says.

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

“56% of those admitted on an outpatient basis and 75% of those admitted on an inpatient basis in 2009 reported being unemployed or economically inactive,” the report states.

He goes on to say that people with addictions are more likely to lose their jobs and less likely to find employment afterwards.

Give people a sense of self-esteem

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

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

Having a job is an opportunity for people’s education, development and reintegration into society, he says.

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

It costs the taxpayer a lot more to put someone in jail for a year than to invest in a supported employment opportunity, he says.

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

On your bike

As Frontline Bike prepares to open, old bikes are repaired at Bluebell, repainted and recycled by people who have been through addiction services.

Soon they will be sold at the Frontline Make Change center on Emmet Road in Inchicore.

“Not all of the profits we make are equity shares. Basically, every penny we make will be reinvested to help people,” Fraser says.

Fraser says he plans to use the money earned by Frontline Bikes to train more people who have gone through addiction services.

This idea is by no means revolutionary, but it serves multiple purposes, he says, and will help some people fill a gap on their resume.

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

Frontline Make Change has placed some of its customers on the City & Guilds Bike Mechanic course, which is accredited by the Irish Professional Bicycle Association and teaches people how to fix bikes.

The process begins at Bluebell, Dublin 12.

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

“So they strip the bikes. They will assess them, examine the parts and make sure the frame is securely attached,” says Fraser.

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

“Then they will be taken to the Inchicore workshop for final construction and then put up for sale,” says Fraser.

A gap in the market

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

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

Fraser believes they can fill a gap in the market created by the Bike to Work program.

People will usually get an expensive bike through the Bike to work program, which may deter people from using it to commute for fear of theft, he says.

“People are tired of the bike-to-work program and they say, ‘For the city, what we want is a little hipster race,'” he says.

There is comfort in biking worth €150 or €200, says Fraser.

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

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

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

Maria R. Newman