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Bikes help improve skills and attitude

Archway aims to divert young people away from crime, reduce reoffending and provide skills and qualifications. Neil (right) had stolen motorbikes and been excluded from school before he was 14. He began attending the Archway Project on Wednesday evenings and found that he was good at motor bike maintenance. Neil’s confidence and behaviour improved, he became a member of staff in 2003 and is now Archway’s Operations Manager

Hundreds of youth centres have closed over the last few years as local councils cease funding initiatives that they have no legal obligations to maintain. The Archway Project is one independently-funded local scheme that has kept going and is expanding its engineering-based programmes by providing BTEC certificates and diplomas. John Milton is the director of the Archway Project, having previously worked with the Youth Justice Board and Prison Service. He explains what the charity does to help reduce anti-social behaviour and improve employment prospects.

The Archway Project is a registered charity based in Thamesmead, London SE2, one of the most deprived areas in the UK, with high levels of crime. The director Stanley Kubrick used the area to film the most brutal scenes of juvenile gang violence in his film DEVELOPING ON INTEREST

Young people are usually referred to the project by social services departments or youth offending teams after having been in trouble of some sort. The first challenge is to attract them sufficiently to overcome their negative attitudes to learning. This is done by offering an experience attractive to many youngsters, off-road motorbiking. Every six weeks, all those signed up are taken out for a day’s riding in the countryside. In return for being taken on this extremely popular activity, the young people are expected to show good attendance, behaviour, academic application and teamworking.

Once they have engaged with the project, it is hoped that they will then be won over by Archway’s instructors, who are on their wavelength. Most of the young people also gain a novel experience: praise from an adult. This transforms their attitudes. In an apparent change of character, they do not now resent being told that they need, say, to clean the bikes after use.

This improved relationship is then used to encourage them to learn a technical subject – bicycle or motorbike maintenance – which they soon recognise to be relevant to their motorbike riding. This link between learning and application is also exploited more widely in Archway to increase the range of subjects now on offer, including computer skills for young people with autism.

When joining Archway, young people are often wary at first, but they gradually gain reassurance and begin to build enthusiasm and capability. They learn the need for rules and the benefit of teamworking. They are also encouraged to enter appropriate examinations and each has a personal development plan created, which includes their own needs and ideas. Crucially, they learn that with the support of the staff, they can have little excuse for failing to complete it. Many of the staff have also had upbringings in which they faced similar difficulties and underwent comparable personal development – see AARON’S STORY

"I’ve been coming to Archway Project for six years now. I was in year 7 and was in a lot of trouble at school. I was having a tough time and was swearing at teachers, fighting with students and sometimes fighting with teachers. I was basically about to be kicked out of school in year 7.

"It was my last chance and I had to have a meeting with the head teacher and the governors of the school. They said I should try going to the Archway Project. The deal was, if I behave at school, I can go and learn mechanics one day a week.

bicycle maintenance

Aaron now teaches youngsters bicycle maintenance and repair so that they can obtain a BTEC certificate. This course meets one day a week for 12 weeks

"I still remember my first day. I was nervous and almost left before it started, but Chas [the senior project worker] showed me around and made me feel welcome. By the end of that day, I knew I liked it here and wanted to stay.

"I’ve learned a lot. I can rebuild engines, service cars and ride dirt bikes, but most importantly, I can now control my temper. In fact, I’m pretty chilled now. I became involved in something that interested me and I could speak with the staff when I needed to.

"If I hadn’t come here, I think I would have been kicked out of school and maybe worse. As it stands, I passed level two motorcycle mechanics [Open College Network Motorcycle Workshop], got six AQA certificates, gained five A-C grade GCSEs and have the choice of two colleges to take my level three motor mechanics course.

"I will never lose contact with Archway. I attend the community workshop each Wednesday evening and have recently started volunteering on Monday nights. It’s funny, because now I’m the person showing new starters around and making them feel welcome."

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