London Bike Kitchen

How a London social enterprise raised over £18,000 from the Crowd to get people onto two wheels

Bikes have always been a passion of Jenni Gwiazdowski.

From the freedom of life on two wheels to the health benefits that come with it, she's been spreading the word to her fellow enthusiasts through the London Bike Kitchen - a workshop that teaches people how to fix their cycles when they go wrong.

So in demand was the Hackney teaching and servicing space that the mechanics were soon running out of room.

So San Diego-born Jenni turned to Crowdfunder to help fund a second classroom - and an inspired crowd raised more than £18,000 to help her do so.

Pledges from 358 backers meant LBK could open its new workshop - LBK2 - just along the road, and help even more Londoners fix their wobbly bottom brackets and get back in the saddle.

Along the way, the not-for-profit social enterprise, which is set on paying its staff a living wage, scooped an extra £1,000 from Crowdfunder HQ when it won the company's #iwanttowin competition.

Jenni was initially inspired by another Crowdfunder project, Save Brixton Cycles, which persuaded almost 1,500 bike fans to pledge £62,000 and shore up the future of London's oldest worker-owned bike shop.

They've since become firm friends.

"Their project was phenomenal," says Jenni, whose first bike was a pink Raleigh, given to her by a boyfriend in the '80s.

"Just seeing what they did... I was actually worried that if we did go to Crowdfunder people would just think, 'oh, I've just supported a bike shop'. But it turned out fine, more than fine."

Jenni's lightbulb moment came in 2009 when she bought a bike frame at a garage sale and wanted to rebuild it. She couldn't find anyone to teach her.

But a friend told her about the bike kitchens which operate in the States, and instantly she knew she had to launch her own.In 2012, the London Bike Kitchen was born, and as she celebrated its fourth birthday, Jenni found herself turning to Crowdfunder to expand her empire.

The £18,179 she and her team of three mechanics and six volunteers raised smashed the initial £15,000 target, thanks to a series of rewards ranging from discounted teaching sessions to tickets to the launch party, gold water bottles to bespoke bikes.

Unique artwork designed by a friend of LBK, adorning everything from bandanas to cycling caps, flew off the virtual shelves.

Pledges flooded in to cover legal fees, bike stands and a launch event, and employ a project manager.

In just 28 days, the team had the cash needed to convert an empty shell of a greengrocer's into LBK2.

Since they collected the keys, volunteers have been working round the clock to install a new shopfront, rewire the building and lay a new floor, ready for an autumn opening.

The new space will incorporate teaching workshops as well as a repair shop, along with a retail area selling parts and accessories, which Jenni hopes will attract even more bike enthusiasts.

They'll also continue their work providing bike parts to local children, who would otherwise be unable to afford to fix them.

"We tried teaching and doing the repair side in the same space and it was a logistical nightmare," says Jenni, who runs regular WAG nights for women and gender-variant customers.

"We desperately needed a different space for repairs and to sell parts and accessories and, thanks to Crowdfunder, we're hoping we'll be able to open some time in October."

Thanks to the Crowdfunder project, Jenni's story was picked up by the Evening Standard, which attracted dozens more supporters across the city.

It means even more people will understand how their bike works - and therefore be more likely to ride it, validating Jenni's drive to help others save money and time, get some exercise and help the environment.

It's her dream to open a second DIY bike shop in London, but for now she's concentrating on recruiting new staff for LBK2.

"No one else does what we do," says Jenni, who persuaded comedian Russell Brand to fight her cause with the local council when her landlord threatened to sell the London Bike Kitchen HQ for luxury flats in 2015.

"Our model is untested.

"But Crowdfunder has been a really, really nice way to involve the whole community and to spread the word about our project.

"It's a fantastic marketing exercise. People have heard about us now because of Crowdfunder."