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A Very Strong Idea

It started out with like, just phone calls. I hadn’t even met Inês. We were both just like ‘Yeah, we would love to teach something, let’s plan – oh you’ve got funding? Amazing!’ What seemed very basic then immediately became super ambitious, kids from 6-11 years old, like six of them at a time, just a lot going on! It was really fun anyway. There were steep learning moments for the kids but also for me and Inês!

I think Broken Spoke was looking for someone that could just adapt, but also not try and contain enthusiasm, not try and like, rein people in but be like, okay, if they like tactile things, and they want to pump stuff up, how can we integrate as much of that as possible? And luckily Doireann and Inês were both super onboard and when Doireann came on the first day, she was basically like: ‘As long as they’re happy and safe, that’s a great foundation and then let’s see if we can build on that.’

I think that gave me just such a deep sense of relief. Like, it would be nice if we could teach kids the ABCs of bike maintenance, so that they know how to turn their bike upside down and put a chain back on, and do a puncture, like standard things that go wrong with kids' bikes. But equally, if we can just get them interested in touching things, and have some material literacy happening – great!

Broken Spoke is such an amazing team, and the summer school project wasn’t really bound in such a tickbox way. If all the kids want to do for the first ten minutes is pump things manically, we can facilitate that, and then if there seems like there’s a moment where maybe this can go into punctures, great, and if they want to just carry on faffing, then fine. But it meant that actually, in the end, we have taught, like, 60 kids how to do punctures, and they do know how to turn a bike upside down, and put the chain back on. And they have used different tools to break chains or whatever, and hopefully had fun.

Now there’s other plans in the works for doing more sessions. So it’s been really fun, and so wild at the same time! I really liked that, I liked the kids, some of them, you couldn’t just assume that they would do what they were told. And I was like, ‘Yeah!’ - I shouldn’t assume an adult can just come and tell a kid what to do.

It’s a summer school. It's not school and it’s not ‘play time’ - maybe something in between? We were trying to figure out how much we wanted to demand of them, and then when the bar was like, ‘as long as they’re safe and happy’, I think it just gives you the spaciousness to be creative and resourceful about how you slot learning into that, how do you slot a skill into this play session?

A typical session, we get four to six kids, of different ages, ideally within a couple of years of each other. We would ask them if they cycled, whether they had bikes, who cycled with them. We had a massive diagram of the parts of a bike. We laid bike parts out on the floor and got them to pick them up and match them. We had a round of Hangman, where we got them to spell out the parts of the bike and guess names. And then after that, taking the inner tube out of a wheel, putting it back in the tyre, putting the tyre on the wheel, patching a tube with a hole in it.

But if there is disruption, or the space is a bit too overstimulating – what are they drawn to? Do they want to play with chains? Do you wanna learn how to break a chain? Do they like pumping things? Here’s a punctured tube – see how many holes you can find in this tube. There was a kid in the first session who was pumping a tube, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna unplug you because it’s gonna blow up at any point now’ I come back two seconds later, and BOOM! Bless him, his soul left his body for a little second! I was like, ‘You okay?’ I don’t need to rub it in, he’s already felt the lesson!

But that’s one of my favourite things, that we were able to be specific with their needs. There was a kid in one of the last sessions, looking at someone else doing a puncture, and was like ‘I’m rubbish! I can’t do it! I’m bad at this!’ And I was like, ‘I’ve just helped him, that’s why he’s okay, now I’m here to help you, it’s going to be fine.’

One kid was super loud, like ‘I’m not gonna tell you my name!’ And I was like, ‘Wow! I used to be like that!’ And she was so like ‘I want to learn’, but also quite antagonistic to other kids. She asked me and Inês point blank if we were lesbians and I was like, ‘Yes! I’m your first lesbian am I?! Nice to meet you!’ I think that person who's still figuring out the world, like ‘What can I be? How can I be? Who can I be this to?’ You’ve got all this social messaging, but if we can just affirm, like, if you wanted to learn more of this, you could. You could be a mechanic. I’m a mechanic, you could be a mechanic. One of the girls was really smart, really understood movement and leverage. I was like, ‘You’re amazing! Please become a mechanic!’. She was like (shrug) ‘Okay, you know, maybe I will’.

The way that Broken Spoke have worked has really brought out the best in me – having staff paid well, paid for their travel, having time to talk about things afterwards, having meetings and feedback. That’s really nice to see, that there can be teaching in schools, and it can still be very funky and creative. That models that kind of resourcefulness that I think, like bodging and bike mechanics and whatnot, can teach you.

I’ve done a lot of different jobs to try and find a way of working that suited me. So hopefully, the kids at the summer school don’t have to go through so many trials and errors, or if they do go through trials and errors, they can see that it's okay.

The idea of being able to repair something is a very strong idea. You’re programmed to just get rid of things when they’re not working. I feel like it gets in your mind, as a child, just like, ‘If I’m not good at this, then I’ll be thrown away’. It’s so tragic. You can have a hole in something, it doesn’t hold air, you put a bit of sandpaper, a bit of glue, add a bit of time, stick a patch on it, boom, it’s very satisfying. ‘Here’s something I’ve impacted with my hands. I could do it again. And something that was broken is now fixed’ That’s amazing, that’s beautiful!

Anything that’s practical is good for the world around us and, mental health, and our physical wellbeing, our relationships, and our sense of interconnectivity. I was told that I couldn’t do this, or made to feel inferior. I don’t have to pass that on. I can have so much fun, teaching something that was a struggle for me to learn. Angle-grinding things and using a crowbar and throwing my body weight around and seeing that I can break stuff, fix stuff, mangle things, and be okay. I have much more autonomy in my own body, and I’m like, I want to use it.


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