WHILE UK unemployment rates have fallen to their lowest levels since 2009, many people across Somerset are still out of work.

A study by the Prince’s Trust found as many as 750,000 young people in the UK feel they have nothing to live for.

Gary Thompson is someone who knows that feeling all too well – he spent four years out of work, and as a result suffered from depression and started taking drugs.

“Your aim in getting a job and having a good reference just disappears and gets worse the longer you’re out of work,” he said.

Gary was told he should volunteer for a charity called On Your Bike, and despite his initial reaction he hasn’t looked back.

He said: “When I was told it was a charity all you can picture is working in a little shop behind the till, but when I found out I couldn’t wait to start as I’ve always been interested in bikes.”

On Your Bike was set up in Wellington in 2010 as a charitable social enterprise by local man Ben Fox.

After some success it moved to Taunton this year and now has a big workshop, meaning more people can be taken on, and it also has a hub at Taunton Railway Station.

Ben said: “I set up the charity on two fronts. The first was that so many good bikes which could be easily fixed and done up to sell to families were just being sent to tips, and the second was that I wanted to help with unemployment in our area.”

The key aim of the charity is to employ the socially under-privileged people, ex-servicemen and long-term unemployed.

Not only do they learn all about the business of bikes, but other skills are taught, including social skills, and help with numeracy and literacy.

Ben said: “Many of the people who come to work here have quite basic skills when it comes to numeracy and literacy, so we help them with that.

“They’re not just learning to fix bikes – they’re learning important core skills which help them with other aspects, including CVs.

“Because we also service people’s bikes for them as well as selling, there’s lots of customer interaction and some really enjoy that side, too.

“It also helps build their self-esteem – it’s so rewarding watching the volunteers grow more confident in themselves.”

The beneficiaries are mentored by volunteers, many of whom are retired teachers who help with their learning.

Ben said: “There aren’t targets for people to achieve – it’s important that they feel relaxed and enjoy what they’re doing.

“A lot is left up to them, but we also make them think about consequences, so, for example, if they keep turning up late that’s not good for them or for us.”

For Gary, working at On Your Bike has changed his life.

He said: “Ben offered me a job to train as operations manager and that’s what I do now – it’s great and it has really changed my life.

“My CV looks better. I have my foot in the door and I’ll be here for as long as they keep me.”

To learn more about On Your Bike, visit www.on-your-bike.org or visit their Facebook page.