• Bikes for Happiness putting bikes in the hands of visa-holders who have been hard-hit in the pandemic. (Twitter)Source: Twitter
A growing movement supporting visa-holders living in Melbourne has been providing bikes for transport, work and happiness amid the trying circumstances created during the coronavirus lockdowns.
SBS Cycling Central

14 Dec 2020 - 9:24 AM 

Dani Valent is a food industry journalist with a lot of connections with the worker and restaurants of Melbourne. When it came to businesses going on reduced staffing or stopping service entirely, she was on the front line observing the effect on international visa-holders who make up a significant proportion of the food industry staff.

"All through this pandemic I've had a lot of focus on visa holders who are here in Australia," said Valent. "I do a lot of work in the food industry as a food writer and it was really clear to me at the start of the pandemic that temporary visa holders -who are crucial to the food industry - were really left out by the government in the pandemic.

"They weren't given the same support that Australian citizens were given. I wanted to do something for these people, it seemed crazy that people in such a rich country like Australia would be left out in the cold through such a crisis as a pandemic."

Podcast #Extra: Bikes for happiness for temporary visa holders

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit Melbourne and venues had to shut down, workers who were temporary visa holders were some of the worse affected. Food blogger Dani Valent decided to join with renowned Attica chef, Ben Shewry to supply food, and produce to people.

At the same time, Dani started a movement for temporary visa holders to get help at different level, and one way is to help mobility, as often it is a condition to finding work, getting bikes to people in need.

Valent started an area on her website dedicated to information and assistance for visa-holders who were having troubles with dealing with the flood of information on lockdown requirements, visa situations and government communications. With many visa-holders not having English as a first language, that restricts the ability of many to battle through bureaucracy to find the information necessary to lodge paperwork and forms. The site was eventually expanded into a mailing list, with news stories and podcasts featuring some of the individuals in adverse circumstance.

That level of support was just the beginning, with Valent keen to extend the assistance to more tangible forms.

"In association with chef Ben Shewry of Attica we started a soup project," said Valent. "Every Wednesday we would make soup and every Thursday we would give it out and over the course of Melbourne's two lockdowns what we were able to support people with increased a lot.

"It started with soup and bread, then we got donations and it would be groceries and myki cards. What became apparent to me, through making friends with and chatting to these people every week was that a bicycle in their lives would be a big improvement.

"I thought there's so many bikes out there sitting in people's garages or someone got a new bike and the old one is still sitting there. I thought wouldn't it be great if we could match up some of these bikes with these people."

That spark proved the impetus for the 'bikes for happiness' project, a movement which is catching on among charitable types in Melbourne who have heard the call on social media and by word of mouth.

"I started this little project, which in my own mind I called 'bikes for happiness', trying to get bikes to some of my community of visa holders," said Valent. "Whether they wanted to use them to find a job or ride around for fun.

"I don't want you to get the idea that it's some sort of fancy operation. All it is, I've got a Google document on my computer and on it are bikes that people have said they'll donate, a few people that can fix up bikes and a few people that can transport bikes."

The lockdown restrictions hampered the delivery of these bikes, with a network of five kilometre radiuses needing to be navigated at times to connect a recipient with their refurbished set of wheels.

"Here in Melbourne, we had a very long period where we were restricted in our movements so to get a bike seven kilometres often involved a few people," said Valent. "I have a list of 1100 visa holders who are mostly in Melbourne where I am. I'm only doing this in Melbourne, I don't have the bandwith to do this nationally. It's very ad-hoc, it's quite slow and it's not that well organised, but in the end things do happen."

"It's happening but I haven't touched a bike myself. I'm connecting people, connecting people who want to help with people who'll be helped by the simple ad beautiful act of getting a free bike."

The initially small organisation has grown significantly since the start of operations, and now provides additional free services and equipment for the safety of riders.

"We had a donation of a little money for locks and helmets and someone come on board donating bike coaching so people can ride safely around Melbourne," said Valent. "It's a really nice community effort and I'm just there linking up these chains.

"I'd love for some more bikes to be donated so we can get them out to people."

If you want to get in touch to donate or support the initiative you can contact Dani Valent via email at hello@danivalent.com with the subject line 'Bikes'.