LOCAL cyclists are being sought to give newcomers a two-wheeled introduction to the Middlesbrough and Teesside area.

Bike Buddies - run nationally by The Bike Project - is aimed at helping refugees and asylum-seekers get their bearings and make new friends.

Induction sessions for local volunteers start later this month.

The Bike Project collects unwanted bikes, fixes them up and donates them to those fleeing conflicts and oppressive regimes around the globe.

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The Bike Buddies initiative pairs volunteer local cyclists with refugee bike recipients to go on rides together.

Bike Project Programmes Coordinator Amer Raawan said: "We are looking for cyclists who would like to share their knowledge of quiet and safe cycle routes, green and open spaces, and other cycling resources with our refugee bike recipients.

"Bike Buddies aims to build confidence and knowledge of cycling, reduce isolation, improve well-being, encourage social integration and greater independence.

"It's a relatively low time commitment but garners huge rewards for those taking part."

Refugee cyclist Karla said: "Having a bike has been a blessing, a wonderful experience.

"The relationship with Beccy has been the best thing, she is lovely, so easy to talk to."

Bike Buddy volunteer Beccy said: "Karla and I hit it off straight away and have been cycling ever since.

"We have become really great friends and I'm so pleased the Bike Project brought us together."

The Bike Project also runs the Pedal Power programme which helps refugee women learn how to cycle.

Those taking part receive eight cycling classes taught by professional cycling instructors - and The Bike Project is currently on the look-out for female cycling instructors on Teesside to run the local Pedal Power programme.

Councillor Stephen Hill, Middlesbrough Council's Executive member for Culture & Communities, said: "Middlesbrough has an amazing cycling community and I know they'll get behind this fantastic initiative.

"Cycling's a brilliant way to explore a new area, and a real ice-breaker when it comes to forging new friendships.

"We're rightly proud of the welcome we afford all new arrivals to Middlesbrough, and Bike Buddies will make that welcome warmer still."

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