Sanctuary Wheels one year on

Sanctuary Wheels one year on

By Nicole Kalinowska

Nicole is Events and Communications Coordinator at Active Oxfordshire

Sanctuary Wheels was launched in May 2022 to provide bikes to refugees and asylum seekers across Oxfordshire. The project was set up by a group of organisations including Active Oxfordshire, Cyclox and Asylum Welcome. Its goal was to make Oxfordshire a more welcoming home for those who have moved here to escape from conflict. A year on more than 600 bikes have been donated, repaired, and given to people who have fled here.

How does Sanctuary Wheels work?

Bikes are donated by members of the public, schools, colleges and business, and are then refurbished by volunteers.

Cyclox played a key role in the project’s first year. Trustee Kathryn McNicoll worked alongside trained mechanics to give out hundreds of bikes to people living as refugees across the county.

Sanctuary Wheels is now run out of a warehouse in East Oxford. People who need bikes visit Asylum Welcome volunteer Nasser Salehi, who runs the workshop fixing up donated bikes. The greatest need is among those living furthest from the city and in more isolated areas of Oxfordshire, where access to shops, health services and work is more difficult.

Why are bikes so important for refugees?

Gilberto Estrada Harris, from Asylum Welcome, reflects on the impact Sanctuary Wheels has on individuals and the importance of having a bike:

“Sanctuary Wheels is making a huge difference transforming people’s lives that arrive here, often with nothing, with no money, with no place to live, no accommodation, no phone, no laptop, and of course no means of transport.”

A bike is ‘a symbol of freedom’, helping people to move around the city, get access to shops, healthcare and emergency services. It allows them to explore the area and spend time with their families and communities.

Max from Ukraine

Max, a refugee who fled Ukraine in May 2022, emphasises the huge difference that having a bike has made since his arrival in the UK. It has helped him to make connections in Oxford – visiting friends, attending GP appointments, going to language cafés – as well as giving him a sense of control and independence. Having a bike has helped Max settle into the country and feel part of society here.

Fahad from Kuwait

Sanctuary Wheels not only gave Fahad a means to navigate Oxfordshire and create networks with people, it also offered him an opportunity to volunteer. Fahad originally came to Nasser requesting a bike, but later returned offering to volunteer. Nasser told us Fahad needed to be doing something, to be kept busy, to work and learn. He now helps Nasser in his workshop each day, fixing up and distributing the bikes, and helping to keep up with the high demand. Fahad is one of hundreds of asylum seekers who are now staying in hotels across Oxfordshire.

Can you help?

Sanctuary Wheels has been made possible by collaboration between all the organisations and communities involved including Cyclox, Asylum Welcome, Active Oxfordhsire, Radley College, Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Oxfordshire County Council’s Active Travel fund and other local organisations.

We are looking for a new long-term space for bike storage and repairs. We need this to ensure we can continue giving bikes, and the freedom and independence that comes with cycling, to people living as refugees in Oxfordshire. If you can help in any way, or can donate a bike, please contact


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