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Cycling to Success with An Mheitheal Rothar

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. In 2010, somebody asked ‘what if’ there was a space where students could come and repair their bicycles?

It would be an ‘ecospace’ – an environment which encouraged peer to peer learning, civic and environmental responsibility and empowered people in their own abilities.

An Mheitheal Rothar – Galway’s Bike Workshop – was born from the idea that people could come together in a group or a cooperative, helping each other as part of a community.

It sprang from humble beginnings with a workshop on the campus of NUIG where volunteers helped students repair their bikes, salvage old machines and pass on their mechanical skills to others. Since then, An Mheitheal Rothar  – which is officially a cooperative – has become an unqualified success story.

10 years after its inception, the service acquired a new home at Galway Shopping Centre on the Headford Road.

An Meitheal Rothar. Photograph by Aengus McMahon
An Meitheal Rothar. Photograph by Aengus McMahon

The workshop is funded from sales of second hand bikes, paid repairs and services of bikes, and donations from those attending DIY workshops on a “pay what you can afford” basis. It has now widened its remit to become a multi-faceted community offering, with the support of the Western Development Commission.

“One of the great things about An Mheitheal Rothar has been the ability to contribute fully to the circular economy,” says Cathy Coote, An Mheitheal Rothar’s Community and Fundraising Co-ordinator. “We’re proud to currently provide six green jobs and four trainee places in our shop.

“We had planned to open a shop to sell bicycles including through the Bike To Work scheme. We had a detailed business plan and a loan from the Western Development Commission but the Covid-19 pandemic altered all of that!

“Instead, we pivoted, opening a shop in the Galway Shopping Centre to provide our repair services and sell the bikes sent for scrap that we repair under our ReCycle Your Cycle initiative. In addition to repairing and servicing bikes, we now plan to restore and ‘remanufacture’ old bike frames by sandblasting and powder-coating their frames back to life.

“We will not only bring bikes back to their former glory but will be supporting more green jobs and training opportunties – and teaching the kind of problem-solving skills that are essential to the circular economy. Who doesn’t want to repair waste and put it back into use?

“The WDC has been incredibly supportive of our plans and through the loan we were able to press ahead with our plans to expand our services and grow the business.”

An Mheitheal Rothar open 'Pop-up-shop'. Galway's community bike workshop 'An Mheitheal Rothar' are opening a pop-up shop in Galway Shopping Centre, Headford road Pictured getting moved in were Conor Cahill, Cathy Coote and Paul O'Donnell. Photograph by Aengus McMahon

Cathy believes the pandemic will leave some positive legacies including a shift toward the recognition of cycling as a climate-friendly alternative to the car, particularly in urban areas. The need for bicycle maintenance expertise will only grow, she believes.

An Mheitheal Rothar has big plans for the year including the continued expansion of its activities, from growing its retail operations, to trialling new recycling technologies and increasing its training options. It is also hoping to offer a City & Guilds Level 8 qualification in Bicycle Mechanics.

Cathy adds: “People are really keen on both cycling and recycling. We’ve shown that change is possible with more infrastructure and the right facilities being added. It’s all very positive.”

Visit the An Mheitheal Rothar website