Leeds Library and Information Service worked with Leeds City Council Road Safety Unit in 2005 to run Turning Corners, a three-week cycling project open to any refugee or asylum seeker who lived in Leeds and could ride a bike. The project was sponsored by Halfords and supported by West Yorkshire Police.

  • Turning Corners was one of eight projects in the region funded through the  government's Invest to Save budget. MLA Yorkshire was the lead partner
  • Overall aim was 'to increase access to, and develop meaningful engagement between museum and library collections and resources with the refugee and migrant community'
  • The projects were the first of their kind to be funded from this budget
  • The library used was well-suited for theory and practical activities as it has a sport centre on the same site and is in a Neighbourhood Renewal area. 
  • The project also used Leeds Central Library for easy access, for its Local Studies Library and collection of maps
  • Cycle rides took place throughout the city centre and suburbs, on all major cycle routes, to enable participants to get to know Leeds well.

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Key issues and aims

Turning Corners aimed to be creative and innovative, helping participants by:

  • making them feel valued members of the community
  • encouraging them to use the library service
  • reducing feelings of isolation
  • increasing self esteem and confidence
  • improving education – reading, writing, language and literacy skills

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Planning process

The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Advice Worker in Leeds Library and Information Service worked with a teacher/former cycle trainer to create the project. Planning sessions covered:

  • Where the participants would come from
  • Who should be involved e.g. organisations
  • Where bikes could be obtained
  • Location and booking of a suitable venue, within the library service
  • Individual session planning, a project outline and plan for each session
  • List of materials and equipment needed
  • A title for the project 
  • Design and logo and printing of t-shirts
  • Devising promotional flyers

Much correspondence involving telephone calls, letters, faxes and emails, including visits to outside organisations and meetings with interested parties all took place before the project started.

Sponsorship, also found beforehand, provided extra equipment for the participants to keep afterwards and to give the project added status. The chief sponsor was Halfords who remained supportive throughout. They provided:

  • Helmets
  • Fluorescent tabards
  • Tool kits and puncture repair kits
  • Cycling gloves
  • Locks and chains

The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Advice Worker liaised with West Yorkshire Police. This resulted in a donation of bicycles from their Lost & Stolen Recovery Department, enabling each participant to have a bike, although some of these were quite old.

Finding the volunteers

The project was open to any refugee and asylum seeker who lived in Leeds and could ride a bike. The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Advice Worker approached Social Services, support workers at Hostels, and individual case workers, by phone and by email and also advertised the project by designing a flyer.

By chance, all who volunteered to take part were unaccompanied male asylum seekers from Africa aged 16-18, living in hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation in Leeds. 

Running the project

The project comprised theory, practice and library-based sessions. The Refugee and Asylum Seeker Advice Worker co-ordinated the work and delivery of the library based sessions, which included joining the library and how to use the library and its facilities.

The cycle tutor and trainer planned and taught the theory. These incorporated practical sessions including bicycle repair and maintenance. The lessons were of a high standard and the content was interesting, creative and fun-based. They met all the learning objectives such as developing participants' literacy skills, extending vocabulary and encouraging verbal expression. They also covered all the relevant themes and topics appropriate to cycling.

The cycle training was delivered along with a cycle trainer from the Leeds City Council Road Safety Unit. These lessons were also of a high standard, innovative and tailored to meet the needs of the group. They incorporated health and safety issues, bike checks and playground riding skills assessment. The 'On road' training included hazard awareness, road positioning, and left and right turns to and from minor and major junctions.

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Impact and Outcomes

  • All passed cycling proficiency and road safety test
  • All joined the library and became aware of services offered, including jobs and skills support
  • Promotion of health, fitness and exercise
  • Free and independent mode of transport and environmentally friendly
  • Increase in self esteem and confidence
  • Increase in participants' use of spoken English
  • Increase in the level of motivation amongst the group
  • Friendships developed and the group continue to meet

Further comments

Increased self-esteem and confidence for leaders and participants
How? Through:

  • Joining in activities, lessons and games
  • Having lunch together, sharing, trust and friendship building as a result 
  • Learning new practical skills in a group setting 
  • Working together as a team showing care and concern for others
  • Improved language literacy, reading, social and interaction skills.

Aiding integration into the local community and creating better understanding of participants' culture and western culture
How? Through:

  • Learning on a specific topic (cycling) incorporating both theory and library and information based activities, led to learning how to access other information relevant to needs and about facilities and services in Leeds
  • Bringing participants into the library through the project provided them with first-hand experiences and practice of using other services and facilities in the library, which they would not have done otherwise
  • Sharing stories during the project from their own countries and culture
  • Eating together, leading to discussion about food and recipes from their countries
  • Writing poetry and expressing their ideas and thoughts in their journals. The participants also sang songs from their countries.
  • Providing access to western culture by demonstrating what libraries offer and through visit to Temple Newsam House/Museum which participants would not otherwise have visited
  • Relationship with the project leaders, especially the teacher and cycle trainer who became role models.

Promoting increased use of resources and understanding about the role of museums and libraries and how to access the resources
How? Through:

  • Participants now coming to use the library on their bikes as a result of initial familiarity through the project
  • Participants now using the library to take out books, use the internet and meet up with friends. They come to find out information 
  • Voluntarily returning as a group to Temple Newsam House/ Museum after the project had finished
  • Pride in having a library card, making them feel part of the community. They have also come to other library projects. 
  • Personal good experience of how libraries can help people learn new skills and knowledge, relax in a comfortable environment and have fun, has increased the participants' understanding of role of libraries 
  • Increased understanding how libraries provide various services for refugees eg books in World Languages, ESOL classes, IT sessions, has put participants in better position to tell others who may be less confident

Development of skills, especially those which can be used to gain employment
How? Through:

  • Improved speech and writing leading to better general communication skills. 
  • Learning how to give and take as a group leading to increased social skills. 
  • Learning about sensitivity and respect for others especially when talking about personal experiences. 
  • Learning about time-keeping and attendance. The participants' attendance was 100% throughout the project. They would arrive on time and often arrive earlier in eagerness to start. 
  • Achieving a level of competence through a test which has given participants pride and self-respect
  • Knowing how to do something (the participants learned how to mend a puncture, road safety, read maps) enabling them to be independent and resourceful.


  • The group continue to use the library
  • They have developed skills that can be used to help gain employment
  • The project developed 'hidden skills' e.g. team building; time keeping; getting used to western quirkiness 
  • They continue to meet as a group independently from the library, but still use the library as a meeting point
  • Participation since in drama workshops at the library
  • Participation since in African drumming workshops

Evaluating the project

This was achieved through:

  • feedback forms
  • questionnaires
  • homework sheets( which the participants completed)
  • feedback from outside agencies, such as Social Services.

Throughout the project:

  • It was useful to have briefings with project leaders at the beginning of every session and a review at the end of each day
  • Briefings and reviews included monitoring the content and quality of each session, regularly reviewing everything. This included plans, risks, keeping everyone informed and staying in touch with key people

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Key lessons

  • Do not assume that others working with asylum seekers and refugees will understand the issues and needs of asylum seekers and refugees
  • Plan in as much detail as possible before start of project
  • Excellent organisational skills essential, as more hours than anticipated are always taken up (including outside of the project)
  • A lot to attention to project management needed along the way to ensure success, with briefings and reviews at the end of each day 
  • Everyone learnt that hard work and commitment by everyone, especially the volunteers, is what led to a successful project. The participants from Turning Corners named the group the  Dream Team

Leeds Library and Information Service staff saw in practice that:

  • they have an important role to play in meeting the needs of this user group
  • being friendly, patient and helpful is much appreciated and valued by the user group
  • libraries do support learning and can help new learning and skills to develop
  • they have an enabling role, promoting self-empowerment, and self-learning.

The participants learnt that:

  • libraries and museums are welcoming, helpful and friendly places
  • libraries offer many useful services and facilities, they are safe places and free 
  • library staff and citizens of Leeds are kind.

Comments from participants' journals

'You were helpful, wonderful and kind with young people who have nobody here....Thank you to all the staff of the  library of Leeds ......'

'The tutors have been very kind and helpful.... And we look forward to participate on incoming project'

'I use the library to borrow books, meet people, photocopying. But this project has pushed me and the Dream Team further, by understanding basic skills of road safety'

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Contact information

Ann Day, Neighbourhood Renewal Manager, Leeds Library and Information Service

E-mail model:

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Useful resources

Leeds Library and Information Service has produced a report (2006) entitled 'Sense of Belonging (available on request). This covers work funded through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and includes a full account of the Turning Corners project.

Please also ask if you would like information about:

  • the current information resources project. This supports refugees and asylum seekers and library staff by signposting relevant and appropriate information to both
  • the Time Together scheme. In Leeds this is co-ordinated through the Library and Information Service.   


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