Autistic student puts skills to good use in growing community project

LVS Hassocks learner Rhys prepares to fix another bike for a customer SUS-160501-152906001
LVS Hassocks learner Rhys prepares to fix another bike for a customer SUS-160501-152906001

A learner with autism from LVS Hassocks is playing a starring role in helping a growing community project serve its ever-expanding number of clients in Berkshire.

Rhys Brown, 18, is putting the skills he has learned at school to great use in helping cyclists maintain and fix their bikes at the Reading Bicycle Kitchen.

Rhys has been at LVS Hassocks, a day and residential school in West Sussex for learners with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, since 2009 and his interest in bike maintenance was sparked by signing up to the nationally recognised Velotech awards there at the start of this year.

Since then he has passed every module of the course attempted with flying colours, and with the school’s ethos to encourage independence and develop learners’ skills and employability, Rhys has taken on a voluntary role at the Reading Bicycle Kitchen that makes great use of his abilities.

Rhys said: “I’m loving it here, it is a chance to improve my own knowledge whilst helping others. I didn’t really have bike knowledge until I started doing the course at school but it has really helped me take this chance.”

The Reading Bicycle Kitchen is a registered community interest company which opened in June 2014, providing space where cyclists can gain access to work stands, good quality tools and experienced mechanics to help them fix problems and improve their bikes.

Adrian Lawson, lead mechanic at the Reading Bicycle Kitchen, said: “Our core purpose is to serve the community and help people fix their bikes – we have done over 2,500 work stand hires since opening.

“Rhys is an integral part of the team and definitely has better skills than most who help – he is brilliant, very competent, and the grounding he has been given at LVS Hassocks is standing him in great stead.”

On a September shopping trip to Reading with his mum, Rhys noticed the Reading Bicycle Kitchen and decided it was the perfect place to make use of his talents and work more on his social and communication skills being developed at school by working in a customer-facing environment.

Senior volunteer Grenville Edwards said: “Rhys is a real asset – very skilled and motivated. Most volunteers are enthusiastic but not informed; Rhys is both and good with all customers from young to old.”

Head of Centre at LVS Hassocks Kira Brabenec is delighted to see Rhys taking another big step towards independence. She said: “We are very proud of Rhys and the great success he is making of his work experience at Reading Bike Kitchen. It is testament to his progress at LVS Hassocks that his confidence has been developed to such a high level that he can take on such responsibility. It also demonstrates the important role that our wide range of co-curricular options play in furthering our learners’ development, as Rhys’ interest in, and knowledge of, bikes was instigated by the Velotech qualifications introduced and run at LVS Hassocks.”

Report and picture contributed by LVS Hassocks.