A brief discussion with Rob Wall, manager at Roll for the Soul, Bristol’s community bike cafe.
What’s your hometown? I was born in Bridgend, grew up in Reading, then tried Manchester, London, Leicester.
What brought you to Bristol? Initially a job as a project manager at Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. And ‘cos it seemed like a great city. Which it is.
We hear Roll for the Soul has a fantastic little story behind it – could you tell us where the idea came from? It was inspired by two things: The Bristol Bike Project and Bristol Cycle Festival. I volunteered as a mechanic at the Bike Project and it’s just a brilliant place. I’ve spent a lot of hours there and never, ever had a rubbish minute. They do fantastic work with people who need a hand learning some skills and getting hold of a bike and it’s just got a great vibe. It’s people doing something for love not money, and I think that’s really valuable. Same goes for the Cycle Festival, which is an annual volunteer-run celebration of cycling in Bristol. It brings so much great grassroots bike-related stuff together for a week each summer, but there was nothing to do that for the rest of the year. So that was the idea with Roll for the Soul. To recreate a bit of that Bike Project vibe in the city centre, and to create a year-round home for Bristol’s cycling community.
Has cycling always been a big part of your life? Yeah, I’ve always ridden bikes and always loved it. If I had to pick one word to describe myself it’d be ‘cyclist’. My big sister was a cyclist – she won Commonwealth sprint gold for Wales in Auckland in 1990 – so the house was full of bikes when I was little. I’ve never been competitive about it, but there is nothing so joyful to me as propelling myself along on two wheels. That’s what the name Roll for the Soul is meant to capture.
You’re also registered as a Community Interest Company – you’ve got it all going on! Could you tell us a bit about this? Yep, we’re a Community Interest Company. That’s basically a form of limited company that’s not for profit. So there’s no owner, and nobody can take money out of the company. We all get paid, and we have to charge for our services so that we can pay our bills, but if we ever make enough profit be spent on furthering the company’s social aims, which are basically about supporting and promoting cycling in Bristol. Like I said before: for love not money.
We’ve had a few Wriggles at Roll for the Soul & swung by one day for a few absolutely delicious Soul Burgers! What inspires the menu? Well I don’t have much to do with it! I’m alright on the bar, and washing up, but a chef I am not. But really the menu is healthy, hearty, affordable food. It’s not fancy, but we try to use decent ingredients and serve stuff that leaves us with a clear conscience. It’s a tricky balance, as you have to have a broad enough appeal to survive. Being entirely vegetarian is almost certainly a bad business decision, but seeing as most of us are veggie it’d just be weird to run a place that wasn’t.
The 1st July will mark your 1 year anniversary right? Any big plans to celebrate? Yep, but we’ll do it a few weeks late. The Cycle Festival’s coming up from July 5-13, which is a super-busy time for us with several events starting, finishing or happening at RftS each day. So we need to concentrate on that for now. And it’d be nice for our birthday not to get lost in all that, too. We’ll probably do something on the final day of the Tour de France, as that’s always good fun anyway.
Any exciting events & exhibitions lined up that you’re excited about?The Cycle Festival. Plus some great live music on July 4 (one of our favourite local bands, Grubs) and July 5 (another of them, Hysterical Injury). Live music’s one of my favourite things about RftS. We have a lot of DIY punk shows and it’s that thing of people just doing something for the love of it again. I love ‘em.
We heard you usually spend a few hours a day off out and about on your bike.When you’re not busy in the cafe or in-store workshop, where do you usually like to head? Depends how long I’ve got. My favourite ride out of Bristol is over the bridge into Wales and up to Usk and back, but that’s a good four hours, so I don’t get to do it that often. But I often head up Dundry or into the Mendips, or if my legs aren’t in climbing mood then up the Severn estuary to Berkley.
What’s your plans for the future? Any new projects you’d love to explore and start working on? Ha! Not at all. We’re still a very young business and there are a million things that we still need to figure out and get better at, so I’ll be concentrating on RftS for the foreseeable.