Back on track

Mohammed Cameron “Kammy” Khan, 15, who had never been abroad, recently returned from Cuba where, with a group of 15 young people, he saw an ambulance that the group had restored, which was now working for the largest hospital in Mantanzas. “It’s was all right,” he says. Leanne Chadwick, 17, says she felt “dead proud because we did that”. Both are graduates of the Oldham Youth Inclusion Project’s (YIP) motor vehicle project.

“The challenge for us was to come up with good ideas that would capture the imaginations of hard-to-reach young people,” says Mick Hurley, YIP project worker. At the time, Hurley was working with an aid charity, Salud International (“salud” means “good health” in Spanish), which sends hospital equipment and vehicles to developing countries.

In 2001, it intended to donate a double-decker bus to the Cuban youth football association who had lost theirs in a hurricane. Hurley connected his two areas of work and jump-started the motor vehicle project – an accredited training programme in mechanics. Nothing groundbreaking, perhaps. “They’re old hat,” Hurley agrees. “But we’ve revitalised the idea – and working on a double-decker bus is dynamic, faces the challenges set us and certainly captures the imagination.”

The project, by default, had also begun working with young people who were involved in the racial disturbances in the Oldham area. “A new challenge for us working with people from different communities was how to bridge existing gaps. We had them working together, talking to each other. We started to look at Cuba: its social and political climate. It has a black and white population and lent itself really well to explore some of the issues about living together and community cohesion,” says Hurley.

An indoor go-karting track provided an effective if unusual solution to the project’s struggle to find a workshop to cope with double-deckers, and the need to bring in teachers. The owner of the track had an interest in education and young people – he once headed a school run by parents, and runs three local youth football teams.

“So we came to the track,” says Hurley. “It was the perfect carrot to get young people here. We moved into a workshop around the corner and contracted the company to employ three qualified teachers to deliver the tutoring part of the course.” The project runs a 12-week entry level City & Guilds NVQ course and a 30-week advanced course.

The courses start at 9am, helping to restore routine to the otherwise chaotic lives of young people. “They come to the caf’ at the track and have a hot drink. Many wouldn’t get a breakfast or lunch if they weren’t here, so we give them both. They’re with us for 15 hours a week and we work to get them back to school on a shared timetable,” says Hurley.

The project employs support workers who also keep tabs on the lives of young people. “We know that if their homes aren’t sorted they aren’t going to be here,” says Hurley.

Chris Ferris, 19, is a success story – although he’s not so sure: “Not yet,” he says. “I’ve achieved a lot, but I still want to achieve more. I’m on the right path. I know what I want to do.”

He is about to enrol on a firefighter course and has been working at the go-kart track for about a year. Hurley marvels at his progress: “He has transformed his life. Where once he was scattered and chaotic, now he is focused and confident.”

In the past year, the project has guided 36 young people through its courses and has restored 46 ambulances, six of which were recently shipped to Chile. The young people who worked on the vehicles travelled to Hull to see them off. Through the project they have also waved goodbye to a shapeless past.

No longer society’s spare parts, these once-stalled lives are now geared for a meaningful future.


Scheme: Motor vehicle project

Location: Oldham, Greater Manchester

Inspiration: To engage 13 to 16 year olds, who are most at risk of being excluded from or failing at school or becoming involved in crime, in education and career development.

Cost: £85,000 a year. Funding is received from sources including Salud, Oldham Youth Inclusion Project, Oldham Council and New Deal for Communities.

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