Jami sets wheels in motion for social enterprise with bike business.
Mental health organisation opens ‘the coolest charity store’, giving vocational and employment opportunities to service users.
In what is touted as “coolest charity store in Borehamwood”, Jami has ventured into the bicycle trade.
Head Room Bikes is a multi-layered social enterprise project from the mental health charity. As well as retailing restored bikes, the adjoining warehouse space is now open for shoppers to browse a wide selection of donated secondhand clothes and household items. In a nod to Jami’s Head Room café in Golders Green, there is even a small space at the front for patrons to enjoy a coffee or other refreshments.
When the Golders Green building was transformed from a traditional charity shop into Head Room in 2016, Jami took on the Borehamwood site as a storage space for donated goods. It also houses an eBay sales operation.
But Jami’s new head of social enterprise, Warren Traeger, is keen to take things forward.
Mr Traeger has spent 30 years in the manufacturing and merchandising licensing industries, 18 with M&S.
His fondest memories were of four years with London 2012, licensing official souvenirs. “The Olympics were the first time I had worked for an organisation that had more than a purpose of making money,” he recalled.
The Jami role additionally appealed as “mental health is a topic that has personal relevance. I have lived with depression for many years. I haven’t had help from a charity organisation but I was aware of Jami and have friends who have used it.”
While impressed by the volunteering and employment opportunities the warehouse affords to service users, Mr Traeger saw unrealised potential. “We have a warehouse full of products. The vast majority don’t even make it onto eBay, although some we recycle. We thought that if we were going to open a bike store, let people also see the bric a brac.”
The bike outlet resulted from conversations with Mark Abrahams of Recycle Your Cycle, through which prisoners repair and refurbish donated bikes for charity resale.
Eleven bikes were sold during a soft launch over a May Bank Holiday and, by coincidence rather than design, the official opening was on Sunday, the final day of the Tour de France.
More than 50 bikes were on sale, priced from £20 for children’s cycles and from £60 for adult bikes. Recycle Your Cycle is the main supplier but others have been donated from the local and wider communities.
The warehouse area has been given a significant facelift with white painted walls, from which chairs, available for purchase, hang from high. At ground level, merchandise is arranged in sections (women’s/men’s/kids/homeware). A small changing room has been created at the back.
“There’s Gucci and there’s Prada,” Mr Traeger noted. And on the bookshelves, an impressive array of psychology literature. “We’ve probably got more Freud books than any bookshop in London.
“It’s a bit like a Jewish museum. A lot of donations follow someone’s death so there are gramophones and fur coats from the 1950s.
“Two service users are working in the café,” he added. “They have been on hygiene courses and are starting barista training. Some of the service users we have at Jami are incredibly creative and doing eBay listings is not right for them.”
A long-term goal “is to take the project forward and have service users trained so they can also do repairs”.
The enterprise was also about “engaging with the community, breaking down the myths and stigmas [a Mitzvah Day activity with the local United Synagogue is under discussion]. And the café brings a lighter side to the mental health conversation.”
Among service users involved in the Borehamwood operation is David Kibel, a genial presence, who is paid for two days and volunteers for a further two, pricing clothes, working on the eBay business and helping with deliveries and collections.
“Doctors told me I would never have a life,” he said. “But I am now fairly stable.
“I’ve been with Jami half my life. I love meeting people. I don’t worry about myself, I worry about others. I am here until I retire.”
A fellow service user, Louis Aminoff, has come to Jami more recently, volunteering three days a week. He has been involved in the bike shop and Mr Traeger hopes to get him cycling.
Being with Jami had “made a massive impact”, Mr Aminoff said. “My life has purpose. It’s good to keep busy.
“I have got something to get up for. My mum is a lot happier.”
For now, Mr Traeger would be happy for the project to break even, provided it met the “people objectives — our service users gaining vocational and social skills. Long-term, we are looking forward to a sustainable income stream.”
Pointing to a chair painted in orange and blue stripes, another decorated with pages from a poetry book and a storage unit constructed from seating, he added that the business could soon be as much about “upcycling” as cycling.
The above article by Barry Toberman first published on thejc.com in Aug, 2018.