If you think the Angry Butcher’s a mean meat eating machine, you’ve been led down the garden path.
It’s a bike shop in Sunbury owned by Bruce Howard. But he was a Butcher by trade, and he is angry (even if these days he better understands why). You see, Bruce is a dad to three gorgeous young girls whose mum died when they were just 11 (twins) and 13 years old. Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, and by Christmas 2008 she passed away, leaving Bruce to raise three little girls who just wanted their mum back.
Bruce and Kylie were together for 25 years. He’d grown up in the very rural and remote NSW town of Ballranald (population 1,200). He was the son of a quite elderly couple (his father was a WWII POW) and as soon as he clocked 16 years he promptly retired from schooling and took up an apprenticeship with the local butcher. Some 18 months later and he bought his boss out, right in the middle of his second year. Not a bad beginning.
A few years into Bruce and Kylie meeting and the two were ready for a change. So in 1997 they moved to Melbourne, where Bruce took a Butchery job at the local Safeway store. No surprises that within five years he was the State Supply Manager, a ‘bloody good job’ that he really enjoyed given all the contact with factories and suppliers.
But Kylie’s death turned life inside out.
They were dark days. Bruce returned to work shortly after the funeral, but by 2010 he’d come undone. He hit the wall hard and had to take off 12 months. It was during this time his closest mate suggested they go for a ride, something Bruce hadn’t done since he was a lad. But off they went, and he was hooked. It was time out, it was a chance for his head to move out of that dark place and be somewhere else thinking of something else, albeit briefly.
In 2011 he crashed again, but this time literally; off his bike. He took it into the local store for repair, and discovered they were having a closing down sale. He asked a few questions. He came back and asked some more. He got to know the General Manager. He decided to buy the franchise and get into the biking world.
His accountant wasn’t happy – the business was losing money hand over fist and it wasn’t a wise financial investment. Bruce countered; that might be the case, but he was making an investment back into life. Within 12 months Bruce was broke. It wasn’t working. Few choices remained – he got out of the franchise and opened his own independent bike shop in the same space.
And this is where we get to meet the Angry Butcher.
In just over a year this store-with-that-something-more has got plenty of reasons to smile. Bruce is no longer talking about ways to simply keep the business in survival mode. Instead he’s thinking about other ideas; what they can do better, do differently, do to help out.
And this is where things get very interesting indeed.
Whilst Kylie was battling breast cancer, the couple decided she should trial a new drug. With this decision came access to a fleet of professionals who would monitor Kylie. It was through this access that Bruce became aware of support services he doesn’t believe he’d have discovered otherwise. In his words “if you don’t know it’s there you can struggle to find the right help.”
With that thought bouncing around in his head it wasn’t long before Bruce took things further, and approached the Sunbury Community Health Centre with his idea, Bike 2 Brain.
To Bruce, several things were clear:
1/ He had a very real and very raw insight into and understanding of mental health
2/ He experienced first-hand how a bike can bust down some of those barriers and get people talking; get people thinking about other things; and get the heart and lungs pumping hard again.
His proposal was pretty straight forward – the local health centre was helping locals overcome mental health issues, why not send them Bruce’s way and he’d take them out for a ride if they were keen? No strings attached, no commitments. Simple, yet bang-on. The idea began to expand at a rate of knots, and talk turned to Men’s Shed and teaching members basic bike maintenance skills to pass onto one another. They’re already working with a young boy, using the mechanical work as a way to bond, talk, and simply just be companions in a safe space.
It’s one of those ideas that doesn’t need huge resourcing – just people power and a willingness to give others some of your own time. As Bruce explains, the moment they stop doing that in his shop is the moment he shuts the business down, anyway.
Bruce can see the day – not too far away – when the Angry Butcher closes for trade during the day, then opens after hours for use as a local community workshop space.
There’s a lot on and in Bruce’s words, “it’s all a good story”. In fact, his eldest daughter turns 21 this year so there’s plenty to celebrate and look forward to. Can’t help but wonder if the bike shop’s name is just a little misleading these days…