Hometown Heroes: Volunteering made Maria feel more connected to community

Roisin Burke speaks with volunteer Maria Bateson about how she got involved with Cork Community Bikes and why volunteering is important to her
Hometown Heroes: Volunteering made Maria feel more connected to community

Maria Bateson, volunteer with Cork Community Bikes.

FIXING bikes for fun was a passion percolated in maturity for Maria Bateson during a four year stint in Scotland while studying the History of Art and Architectural History at Edinburgh University.

Maria said she developed an interest in bikes and bike maintenance at a community space that existed in the Scottish city and when she moved home to Cork and she heard about Cork Community Bikes, she was immediately interested in checking it out.

The 27-year-old, who is a Community Sponsorship Project worker with Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee rights centre, has volunteered with a number of diverse organisations over the years, including Surfers Against Sewage and spent three months helping refugees in Calais.

Maria said she went to Calais driven by a desire to help in some way in the ongoing migrant crisis.

“It was chilling to see how casual and normalised the situation was, people living in tents, with no permanent shelter, constantly moved on by police, it shook me to my core.”

While the experience at first brought feelings of despair, Maria said she eventually gained the perspective that it was important to create goodness and there was positivity in the teamwork involved in building things together.

“I realised it was important to form community spaces and these spaces are important no matter what.”

Matt Jones of Cork Community Bikes at their workshop at Assumption Road, Cork. Pic; Larry Cummins
Matt Jones of Cork Community Bikes at their workshop at Assumption Road, Cork. Pic; Larry Cummins

Here in Cork, Maria started to get involved in Cork Community Bikes, helping people to fix their own bikes and improving and upgrading old bikes that are donated to the organisation.

“In the past, I wasn’t into bikes, it was only in Edinburgh that I got into it and I realised that fixing things is fun. I wasn’t much of a DIY person before.”

Maria, who has a Felt roadbike which she describes as a ‘Frankenstein hybrid’ due to the number of alterations and upgrades she has done to it, said it was only after she had built a few bikes herself that she felt confident enough to share her knowledge and help others.

“I love my bike, I adore it. There is something very special about having worked on your own bike, you build a relationship with it, it’s like a pet!”

“I really enjoy working on bikes and repairing them. My knowledge is a mix of advice and tutorials from other volunteers, Youtube tutorials and blogs. There is a lot of trying things out and breaking things, sort of trial and error. Definitely, there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved!”

Maria said it is a strange process in learning and developing a skillset in bike repairs.

“Sometimes I don’t know why I do it and then it works and I forget how difficult it was to get it right.”

Maria Bateson's bike. Maria is a volunteer at Cork Community Bikes.
Maria Bateson's bike. Maria is a volunteer at Cork Community Bikes.

In terms of volunteering, Maria said it was after university that she became more aware of the role of volunteers in the community.

“I realised how important it was for organisations to have volunteers who were reliable and committed and how important work in areas I was passionate about didn’t just happen magically. I started to feel more connected to the things I cared about and more empowered to get involved and make changes.”

The bike expert said that there are a lot of benefits to be gained from volunteering.

“Volunteering can make me feel like I’m able to make some kind of a difference, even if at times it feels like the exact opposite! It also brings an incredible sense of community and connectedness. There are a lot of valid criticisms of volunteering in certain areas - that it can pick up the slack where services should be stepping in, that it can be exploitative. But I love that it can show a side of humanity that does things not for profit, but to show care.”

Maria said that volunteering is her way of contributing to a world that she would like to be a part of.

“I think, when I picture how I’d like the world to be, it involves people helping and supporting one another - mutually - not for any ulterior motive, but literally just to be sound and in the knowledge that it’s really the only sustainable way of being. I am not like that a lot of the time and can be selfish like anyone else - but I’d like to build towards that more, and I guess trying to act accordingly is a way I can start.”

To get involved in Cork Community Bikes or to learn more about it, you can log onto their website at www.corkcommunitybikes.com.

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