Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 34 seconds
What if you get your dream job – in a cycle shop – and then discover that being on the busy, traffic choked, siren-wailing Holloway Road has some lethal downsides? That’s why Russell Selway from Cycle Surgery Highbury discusses air pollution in this interview with Nicola Baird
It’s exactly a year since Russell Selway was interviewed at the Barn Café, on Holloway Road, for a bike mechanic position at Cycle Surgery Highbury. Luckily he doesn’t mind going back for a cup of black tea for this Islington Faces interview – probably he was offered an even better post, Assistant Manager.
“I was an events manager at Fullers, the brewery, working in the Holly Bush pub at Hampstead. I had to get out because of the lifestyle – you’re not always eating well, you’re drinking too much, there’s the hours, and you had to be well dressed. I’d cycle from Seven Sisters across the Heath and arrive sweating and muddy,” says Russell, 36, cheerfully.
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Brought up in rural Leicestershire near Hinckley, what he calls “the home of Triumph motorbikes, but where there’s nothing to do,” Russell is clear about what makes him happy – London, bikes and the great outdoors.
Even during the bad old days of organising gigs Russell would volunteer with Heath Hands on Hampstead Heath. “I still volunteer on a Saturday or Sunday. It used to be every week, but now it’s once a month. There’s nothing much wildlife to do in November, so you spend the whole time talking to kids about making leaf crowns. They’re not so keen on arts and crafts, but kids love it when we do snakes and mini beasts,” he says before joking, “they want to put two spiders in a jar and see which eats the other…”
Places Russell Selway likes in and near Islington
- I like going down Upper Street. There are nice restaurants and bars. The King’s Head often has live music.
- I like the park behind Cycle Surgery – Highbury Fields and there’s a good leisure centre.
- I do like work at Cycle Surgery Highbury. The hours are 8am -7pm. It’s busy with commuters but quiet in the day time.
- I lived in Archway on the roundabout for four or five years – it’s the best place I’ve ever lived in London and close to the Heath and Waterlow Park.
However much Russell loves the outdoors, his real passion is bicycles.
Cycle Surgery Highbury “is a commuter shop for people going there and back, so we get very few high end bikes. We also sell tonnes of Bromptons – they’re a great brand and so easy to ride, fold neatly and look nice. I often use the shop one, it’s a red and white demo bike for the customers,” he explains.
Russell has an industry accredited bike mechanics qualification, which he took at Bike Works in Bethnal Green. That’s why he says with some authority that at Cycle Surgery he’s often “shocked how little a lot of cyclists care about their bikes, considering they are road going vehicles and even their own personal safety. You see helmets not fitted correctly and brakes that don’t work. I’m not motherly or fatherly, I try to be assertive and say, ‘You need to do this now… because if you don’t replace the brake pads you’ll wear the rims away and that will cost more money and the bike won’t stop. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a helmet on your head if your bike is not going to stop.”
9 tips for hassle-free cycle commuting from Cycle Surgery’s Russell Selway
- Puncture proof tyres.
- Mudguards keep you and the bike clean.
- In winter you need decent base layers and a wind- and rain-proof top.
- Get working lights and a helmet that fits properly.
- To avoid your bike getting stolen put one lock through the rear wheel and if you can take off the front wheel and lock that.
- Always check what you are locking your bike to – use a lamp post which can’t be cut because of the electricals, rather than a sign post. Also check railings have not been tampered with (people will cut them and then wrap dark tape around.
- Try not to have too expensive components, like the derailleur, brakes and wheels
- Use a cheap commuter bike (up to £500 brand new).
- When you buy a bike make a note of the frame number and get it marked (at Cycle Surgery it will already have an alpha-dot registration). http://www.alpha-dot.co.uk/
Russell is not shy to talk about London’s air pollution either. Russell commutes daily through busy traffic from his Seven Sisters home to work by bike, happily, but the big snag at his dream job is that it’s company policy to keep the door open during working hours. This isn’t ideal on super-polluted Holloway Road (aka, the A1). Russell reckons the open door letting in noise and pollution has become a happiness issue for all the staff.
“I hate working on Holloway Road: the air pollution is horrendous. If you go into the shop you can see the packaging gets covered with dust and dirt by the end of every day. We clean it off every day (see photo of boxes). But the dirt and grime means we can’t sell white clothing in the shop because it doesn’t stay clean long enough,” he adds.
“The noise is horrendous too. You can never hear anything on the phone because sirens are going all the time… It’s police and ambulances through the red light. And there are the buses. The stuff they chuck out is horrendous! Never warm up behind a bus… I think diesel should be banned,” says Russell.
It’s no secret that London is one of the most polluted cities in the world, killing up to 10,000 Londoners prematurely each year (BBC news story). Despite this London has yet to show the sort of vision that’s needed to tackle air pollution.
- For example in August 2016 the Netherlands was reported as being on the verge of banning petrol fuelled cars. But it turns out that diesel vehicles – with their tiny particles that can get into our airways – are much worse.
- Then in December 2016 the mayors of Paris, Mexcio City, Madrid and Athens plan to ban all diesel vehicles by 2025.
According to Baroness Jenny Jones, British Green Party member now in the House of Lords, on her website how polluted is my road: “Air pollution has been inked to life-shortening lung and heart conditions, breast cancer and diabetes. It is estimated that there are over 4,000 extra deaths each year in London from particulates and health costs are estimated at up to £20 billion a year – twice the cost of obesity.” You can find out more at http://www.howpollutedismyroad.org.uk/
Even if Cycle Surgery shuts its door – which will definitely improve Russell and colleagues’ workplace – it’s not going to stop the people living, working and shopping along Islington’s bit of the A1, the Holloway Road, from having to battle with the often lethal effects of air pollution. The more of us who speak up the better – so thank you Russell for the heads up. And good luck to us all.
- Cycle Surgery Highbury, 70 Holloway Road, N7 tel: 0207 697 2849 for repairs, service, new bikes and Bromptons.
- Barn Café, 60 Holloway Road, N7 http://www.thebarnlondon.co.uk/
- More information about pollution at how polluted is my road and clean air London and London Air Quality news.
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.