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20 August 2020
Andy Steele (right) has encouraged Wes (left) and Damien (centre) in bike restoration, and rebuilding their lives.
Words Darryl Whitecross and Simone Worthing
Salvos Re-cycle Bikes in Brisbane – where bikes are being given a second chance at life on the road – is also bringing new life and hope to several volunteers who are working through their own personal journeys.
Wes, 57, and Damian, 45, are two of those volunteers who are rediscovering a purpose in life through the innovative Salvation Army program.
“Working on recycling the bikes is helping me in my rehabilitation, after having spent several years in jail,” says Wes. “With my aircraft engineering background, I am now the ‘principal mechanic’ at the bike recycling centre. I’m also aiming to be reconciled with my family soon in regional Victoria, and hopefully take what we do here at the centre down there.
“I’m working through a couple of issues first – and now we have the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions – but I want to be closer to my children to reaffirm my position as a father and, in turn, step up to being a hands-on grandfather.
“After being released from prison in 2017, the Salvos Streetlevel Mission in Brisbane came into my life through a friend who suggested I look up a guy called Andy Steele there [Andy is the coordinator of Salvos Re-cycle Bikes].
“I did, but it wasn’t long before I was incarcerated again. During this time Andy [who does volunteer prison outreach], told me about the bike program and said I was welcome to come and have a look when I got out.
“At that stage, Salvos Re-cycle Bikes was just beginning. While in jail I had acquired a welding certificate. I also have a lot of knowledge in the engineering trade and made some suggestions to Andy about putting some windows and doors in the shipping containers for when the bike shop opened there.
“After I got out we started to manufacture parts to put in the doors, workbenches, air compressors and window frames. We cut sections out of the container, welded window and door frames, and put in windows and doors, workbenches to work and air-con.
“My life was changing to the extreme – physically, emotionally and spiritually. I now feel good about myself because I’m helping others, I have met people who are genuine and I have friends who understand and care.
“At my age, too, this work is ideal for me. It gets me out of the house, gives me responsibility and I can speak to people. I have suffered from mental health issues so this helps me cope; takes my mind away from things.
“The life I used to live before I did this was completely different. I’ve got the taste of this new way. I can’t go backwards.”
Damien’s path to the bike recycling centre was also through some challenging personal circumstances.
“I had some court issues and had completed the rehab program at Moonyah [The Salvation Army drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Brisbane].
“As part of this I had met Paul Brittenden through God’s Sports Arena [a Salvos church in Brisbane that reaches out to the homeless and people doing it tough]. Paul is involved in Salvos Re-cycle Bikes too.
“I talked to Paul about what I wanted to do [and] bikes had come up in conversation. Paul told Andy that I was ‘a bloke who likes to ride and fix bikes’, and the partnership rolled on from there.
“The program gives me a sense of purpose; some direction. It’s a passion. I would like to get more involved and hopefully turn it into some sort of employment.
“I like giving back to the Salvos. They have done a lot for me ... they have saved my life. I was heavily involved in drugs [so] without these guys, who knows where I would be?”