A conspiracy theorist might think that the new motorcycle licence regulations that came into effect in January, were specifically drafted to discourage young people from becoming riders.
Before you can ride a motorcycle without power restrictions, you will now need to be twenty one years old and to have held a restricted power licence for the preceding two years. Otherwise you would have to be twenty four. It will take some enthusiasm and resilience for a teenager being introduced to the CBT and riding at sixteen to pay for and jump through the various test hoops before getting astride the bike they may desire.
(Full details of the new regulations can be found on the DLA website)
Fortunately, across the UK, there are projects working with young people which introduce them to the concept of, and the active excitement that is motorcycling. Involvement with bikes can engage with those parts of a young persons interest that conventional education and youth work find hard to reach. Learning to ride needs balance, coordination, judgement, assessment of risk, choices and consequences. Learning how to maintain and repair bikes requires problem solving skills, patience, tool handling, and communication, all of which are great and important life skills for every area of life.
The Archway Project
Over the next couple of months Wemoto News will be featuring the work of several projects in various parts of the country, and we begin the series with the work of the ArchwayProject based at Thamesmead in South London.
Thamesmead is a sprawling housing complex stretching over reclaimed marshland beside the River Thames south of Woolwich in the outer reaches of South London. It was built in the late 1960's as an overspill for a working class population that needed improved accommodation, but from the beginning it suffered a lack of basic amenities. Not least of which were facilities for young people who were effectively isolated because of poor transport links.
The Archway Project was set up in 1982 partly to divert kids from motor and motorcycle theft and 'joy riding' which was blighting the area at that time, by providing excitement and challenges to a section of young people. The idea being to channel the exhilaration of being chased by the cops into activities which would provide a more positive outlet.
The main programme has always revolved around the maintenance of motorcycles, and learning to ride them off road. Over the years the workshop programmes have developed significantly to the point where they are now able to offer accredited courses to 14 – 19 year olds through the Open College network equivalent to NVQ Level 1 – though it's possible for those as young as 11 to join the classes.
Young people can refer themselves, but Archway has also developed referral links with schools, pupil referral units, youth clubs and youth services, social services and youth offending teams. They can even take their maintenance and repair courses 'on the road', working with groups in other parts of London. On three evenings per week the maintenance and repair workshops are run as a more open and informal youth facility.
Gaining new skills
One of their managers, Neil Monaghan, told me about one of the young people in the programme. He has Autism and has chosen to spend part of the personal budget allocated for his care and support to acquire skills and a qualification in motorcycle repair and maintenance.
The big carrot for participants is getting togged out in riding gear and taking to the tracks and trails. Archway have taken this one step further, organising, together with similar projects across London and the south of England, a series of youth enduros throughout the year. These competitive events where skill is required are not just about being a good rider, but other elements are introduced as well such as tyre and wheel changing. Projects enter teams, usually of three riders and it's their responsibility to keep the bikes on track, and make decisions about refuelling, rider changes and tactics.
The main riding event that young people can look forward to is summer camp. Bikes, tents, cooking gear, food, clothing, boots, helmets, tools, fuel cans and kids are all loaded onto vans and trailers and transported to a suitable off road venue or farm that allows riding on their land. They have also taken groups to the annual Dawn to Dusk Enduro in Wales, where they help as static and travelling marshals.
At other times during the year they will organise one-off trips to spectate at major off road events. Young people have enjoyed the experiences of the Weston Beach Race, Le Touquet Beach Enduro and the famous Ersberg Rodeo in Austria.
All is not motorcycling though. Photography is an important component of their programme; providing young people with the opportunity to acquire another skill and also record the projects activities. And an integral part of the day is the healthy eating component: teaching young people about cooking, budgeting and healthy eating. A member of staff and up to three young people decide on a menu, shop and cook lunch for up to ten people.
Towards the end of last year the Archway Project was able to move into a new purpose built youth complex sharing premises with other leisure, pleasure and educational sessions. The advantage for young people being that they can see and choose to take part in other diverse activities. The new building was funded through the (previous) governments 'My Place' initiative and overseen by Trust Thamesmead, the community development agency that works to improve facilities and the living environment.
The time and attention given to young people's development and introduction to bikes by the staff and volunteers at Archway and similar projects inevitably falls beneath the (faulty) radar of conventional media coverage. Which is why Wemoto are pleased to be able to provide a platform for information about their work to reach our readers.
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