A small Islabike and a Brompton dressed the podium for this seminar - two little bikes that each transformed an industry and became ‘iconic’ in their markets.

Isla described the idea behind the Imagine Project, an initiative of her company Islabikes which aims to make bicycle manufacturing more sustainable, as resulting from the fact that "Cycling is a remarkably efficient and environmentally friendly way to get around. However manufacturing everywhere is based on taking raw materials out of the ground and turning them into products and, when they are finished with throwing them away. This is wasteful and ultimately unsustainable - there must be a better way."

Isla Rowntree

It was fascinating to hear Isla describe her vision of children’s bikes made in the UK to such high standards that they can be ridden to school every day of term for 50 years. The bikes would be rented on a monthly basis and you would be able to trade your bike in for a larger one as the child using it grows. Over its lifetime, each bike would be ridden by up to 50 people and when the bike eventually fails, all its raw material will be separable and salvaged to be reused or recycled. This would have far-reaching implications: as well as conserving precious raw materials it could eventually reduce the cost of owning a cycle enabling many more people to share the joy of cycling.

The project would also change your relationship with your cycle – Isla spoke passionately about the excitement of discovering as a child that your cycle had been ridden by a champion such as Laura Trott at the same age.

Isla shared images of a prototype with a sleek frame of high-quality Reynolds Technology stainless steel - already 80% recycled and made locally in Hall Green – and shared a few tantalising details. The prototype includes low maintenance hub brakes and possibly hub gears as well as a Brooks Cambrian saddle (alas made in Italy at present).

Andrew Ritchie shared the enthusiasm of the audience for the environmental aims of the Imagine Project. He opened by reminding us of Professor David MacKay’s witty description of the lifecycle of goods. Having done that, he used his experience of engineering and distributing a novel bicycle to highlight some of the challenges, deftly fulfilling his brief to get us thinking. This spurred a lively and entertaining question and answer session drawing on the considerable knowledge and experience of the audience.

Andrew Ritchie

It was great to have a diverse and knowledgeable audience including representatives of the region's universities, public authorities and businesses. We were particularly pleased to welcome representatives of manufacturers including Reynolds Technology, Schwalbe, Trillion Cycles and Whippet Cycles. Isla envisages a future where the Imagine Project will be open source and is keen to "connect, collaborate and share" with like-minded businesses, fellow manufacturers and suppliers.

This is not just about cycling. The Imagine Project and closed loop manufacturing more generally have the potential to contribute to manufacturing businesses across the region and, by encouraging the circular economy, to help to reduce waste and pollution with all the health and other benefits that this would bring. Do make contact with Isla if this interests you - this could be the beginning of a social movement creating a circular manufacturing economy based in or on the borders of the new West Midlands devolved region.

This seminar on Cycling and the Circular Economy is one of a series of occasional seminars on broadly environmental themes. If you would like information on future seminars – or have a topic to suggest – please get in touch.

Further information

This article was written by our Charity Sector Lead, Shivaji Shiva, in partnership with David Cox, Chair of Bike West Midlands Network. If you would like more information about the work that Anthony Collins Solicitors does in the charity sector, please visit our website. You can find further information on the event here.

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