Meet the Archway couple who 'saved lives' with their volunteer biker army
Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Bike Shed
A pair of keen motorcycling enthusiasts who mobilised a team of bikers to deliver thousands of meals and medical equipment during the pandemic say they would do it all again.
Husband and wife Anthony and Vikki van Someren were awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours for the work they have done in Hackney.
Vikki and Anthony, 55, who is known as Dutch, run the Bike Shed in Shoreditch, which includes a shop, a restaurant and cafe, and the Bike Shed Show for thousands of keen bikers.
They were also busy planning the next step – to open a branch in Los Angeles.
When the pandemic hit, the couple, who live in Archway, organised for a team of contacts to help deliver key equipment and food to the NHS, care homes and residents who were in urgent need of support.
It quickly grew, with more than 1,400 volunteers signed up at the peak of the outbreak.
Between them, they distributed more than 7,000 oximeters across London and “tens of thousands” of food deliveries.
One volunteer alone delivered 600 oximeters, which measure people’s blood oxygen levels to tell how well they are breathing – saving the need for doctors or ambulances to deliver them.
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Vikki, 47, said: “The Bike Share Community Response meant we could step up and help others and people have seen how riders can help, with good people doing good things.”
She added: “Should the need arise we could probably mobilise 300 to 500 volunteers overnight.”
They are still delivering food for Centrepoint in London and Young Carers in Dorset.
On delivering oximeters, she said: “We had calls from doctors saying you are literally saving lives.”
The tool can help pick up silent hypoxia – a complication of Covid – where people have low levels of oxygen in their blood.
Volunteers were able to deliver oximeters within 90 minutes of getting a call.
They often stayed with unwell residents whilst they did the tests to be on hand if they needed to call for an ambulance or required urgent care.
“Often the person getting the oximeter would be worried, afraid and vulnerable,” Vikki explained. “It would be reassuring for them to have a volunteer deliver it.
“If you ride a bike it is the quickest way to get through London traffic. As bikers, me and my husband understand how efficient it can be.”
The pair worked long hours to deal with up to 300 calls a day and used an app for motorbike couriers to help organise the deliveries and collections of meals and equipment.
Vikki recalled: “We used Gophr, which made it easy to step in and made it very safe, everyone had a licence check, we had criminal checks for medicines deliveries. We set it up from scratch.”
The team worked with the Centrepoint charity and The Ned hotel in the City of London to deliver food to young people in need across Hackney, and worked with schools to take food to pupils.
“In Hackney it was very much PPE (personal protective equipment) delivery in the early days,” said Vikki.
“We took PPE to care homes, surgeries, hospices, chemists and delivered it directly to hospitals.”
Some equipment was even delivered by relay across the country.
When things returned to “normal”, volunteers worked from hubs at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and the Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham.
Vikki said the volunteer riders’ group also gave the riders a purpose at a time when some were furloughed or unable to work.
They also paid for their own fuel, she pointed out.
“We did it full-time, full-on for 20 months. All credit to the volunteer call handlers and people stepping in.
“It was a hard but rewarding time.”
She continued: “I think emotionally the phone calls were the hardest thing, when you had a doctor call and a patient call and they are not well and very scared.
"The number and the scale of it – you can’t walk away from Covid on the frontline. It was terrifying and emotional."
Covid rules allowing, the couple are planning to open a new Bike Shed in Los Angeles in February and stage their motorbike show at Tobacco Dock in Tower Hamlets in the summer.
But if they’re needed, the volunteers could be back.
As for the award, Vikki said: “We are still in shock.”
The couple aims to carry on the voluntary work started by the team at a time of crisis.