Cycle-Lingo Gets Refugees Back on Two Wheels

By Alison Holland

Published: June 19, 2024

Cycle Lingo - Ukrainian Flag and logo.

“Sometimes I felt like Robinson Crusoe… alone on an island”. When we launched our Cycle-Lingo project to help local Ukrainian refugees get cycling we didn’t realise the other benefits it would lead to - such as creating a friendship network amongst local Ukrainian-speakers. 

Can you imagine coming to a strange country where you do not speak the language - you have few possessions, few if any contacts and limited employment opportunities?  You have had to leave friends and family behind in a war zone so you never know if any call you have with them will be the last one. 

How Will You Get Around?
Resettling well into a new country has so many challenges. One of those is ‘how will you get around’. This is especially difficult in a car-dependent society such as ours. It’s not just about getting to work but all those trips you need and want to do too - getting to health appointments, getting the kids to school, going shopping (and carrying the shopping home), getting to English lessons, and of course going out for leisure and social meet ups.

Ukrainian Refugees at William Knibb Cycle Lingo. Cycle Lingo at wicksteed park. Cycle Lingo Merchandise.

Refugees Need Cycles
Here in North Northamptonshire we had been getting a few requests for refurbished bikes from our Kettering Cycle-Re-Cycle scheme  for Ukrainian refugees living in the area. Recognising this demand - which conveniently coincided with some funding we received - we decided to develop a project to address this. We would not only equip them with the cycles and accessories they needed but also give them the skills and confidence training they needed too. 

Overcoming the Language Barrier and Partner Support
With language a barrier to learning, we recruited Roman, a local Ukrainian refugee himself, who loves cycling and has good enough English to act as translator whilst taking part in the sessions himself. The language support aspect of the programme led to the name - Cycle-Lingo.

The original trial programme - funded by Active Travel England through North Northants Council - was for up to 15 adults but in the end 30 local Ukrainian refugees took part in some way. We were lucky to have the support of wonderful local Kettering venues too - Wicksteed Park and the William Knibb Centre. Our team of mechanics, cycle trainers and project organisers helped make the scheme a big success.

Cycle Lingo Cycle maps. Cycle lingo team at the hub waving. traditional ukrainian designs on thank you gift.

The Joy of Learning to Cycle
The sessions included a one-hour ‘how to check your cycle’ (including the ‘M’ check) to ensure they could keep their cycles safe. Then a playground-based cycle skills session to help them safely and confidently ride, steer, signal, make good use of gears etc. Some guidance on safe cycling on roads was followed by a led ride. A session on route planning with local cycle maps means they can now plan and ride their own routes.

Those who could not cycle were given one-to-one sessions. Olena came to us unable to cycle but with a dream to be able to - within two sessions she was whizzing around. It was such a joyous moment for us all. She can now cycle to and from her job in the town centre which makes her journeys to work much easier and quicker.

Olena, Cycle Lingo.

All Kitted Out
Getting them equipped was important too - our refurbished donated bikes were put to good use and we took good care to make sure each participant had a bike to suit them best. One needed a baby seat so she could carry her baby with her so we provided that too. Panniers and baskets were a popular addition too as they really enable those practical everyday journeys more. Keeping them secure was a priority too so some ‘how to lock’ guidance and a free lock helped with this.

Future Plans for Cycle-Lingo
However successful a trial is there are always ways to improve. The main request from feedback was to extend the scheme and include family sessions so children could learn too alongside parents. We are already working on this and have provided some of the local Ukrainian children refurbished cycles too. 

We have opened up to requests from other local refugees and recently gave cycles to a family from Eritrea. With Cycle-Lingo we will continue to support our local participants and hope to expand the scheme soon to other towns in the county.

Cycle Lingo family cycle gifting.


The language support was essential for this project and we were lucky to find Roman to help us (shown here on the right with the rest of our Brightwayz core team). He is now a permanent part of the Brightwayz team, not only helping with ongoing support for Ukrainian refugees but working on the design side of our promotional products range and our community events.

Brightwayz and Brand My Thingy team.


For the future we aim to grow the Cycle-Lingo project and the positive impacts it brings in helping refugees get around, socialise and connect better with their new communities. Thanks to sales income from our ‘Brand My Thingy’ promotional products range and our customers and clients who buy from us, we can invest profits back to support this and our other community schemes.

Here at Brightwayz social enterprise we love to provide information and tips to help you, your colleagues, friends and family travel in safe, active, sustainable ways for everyday journeys.

Cycle Lingo - brand my thingy logos.

Our unique range of products is here to help support your active travel campaigns and 100% of profits from sales is ploughed back to support the work we do. Take a look at our Brightwayz active travel range of resoruces here and find something to help you inspire others to travel in good ways.