A motor cross track in Preston provides education for disadvantaged teenagers and rewards their efforts with a ticket to ride. Amy Taylor reports
Eddie Sloane was aware of the land on Preston docks long before it became the site for his motor sport business. Years ago, as a teenager growing up in Blackpool, he used to visit the same piece of land – then a sand quarry – to ride his motor bike.
“We used to go and see the lads who worked there on a Friday and, for a tenner, they would leave us the key under the mat,” he says.
Although he has fond memories, Sloane recognises the situation was not ideal. An accident and a weekend security guard eventually put paid to the quarry’s double life.
Sloane’s use of the site these days, despite still involving a motor cross track, is very different. For the past 10 years it has been home to the TraxGroup, a project and business he created as a result of wanting to help disadvantaged children and identifying a need for areas where people could take part in motor cross legally.
Part of the business involves looked-after children from across the country living in Trax-run residential homes. They attend the site for their education and, on the condition that they have been well-behaved, take part in activities. Alongside this, the site’s facilities and activities are also available to the paying general public, helping to make the service sustainable.
The on-site, Ofsted-registered independent school, which has a headmaster and a qualified teacher, offers young people the chance to learn about life skills, mechanics, and construction, alongside traditional lessons in literacy, maths and information technology.
As well as the motor cross track there is a tarmac track on which the young people can drive rally cars, go-karts and quad bikes. Trax also offers kite-surfing and jet-skiing at a nearby beach in St. Annes. The mechanics lessons take part in a trackside workshop, and there is a separate area for construction lessons covering skills such as using diggers and forklift trucks.
The project also runs outward bound activities and an emergency respite and crisis intervention service for looked-after young people, which can be accessed for short periods.
Beach based sports
The young people are able to build up points over the week and exchange this for time racing, driving or taking part in the beach-based sports on Wednesday afternoons and at weekends. Sloane says that reinforcing positive behaviour can help the group to change the way they behave more permanently.
“We work hard to change the beliefs of young people,” Sloane says. “They tend to come here thinking that they can’t achieve, but we can get them to change their beliefs.
“As they get better [at the activities], they want to increase the risk. They start fairly slowly and, as they gain confidence, their self-esteem rises.”
The project can provide schooling for a maximum of 18 looked-after children, many of whom come with a history of multiple broken placements and sporadic school attendance.
Sloane himself left school at 14 with little regard for education. He began working in construction then qualified as a civil engineer and developed his own business. He feels it’s important that the young people receive vocational training and qualifications to enable them to fend for themselves. As a result, commercial aspects are built into the activities – some of the young people carry out weekend work for the site such as marshalling races, helping to maintain the tracks or working as lifeguards.
Space for work experience
“They can get qualifications to go away with and they have the space to develop work experience,” says Sloane. “It’s building brick on brick.”
Dan Kirk, who attends the project, explains: “I enjoy riding the bikes. I am going to do forklift truck work when I leave because the money’s good.”
Many of the young people at Trax struggle with basic maths and English and can become easily embarrassed. Mick McCullum, an activity instructor and mechanical engineer at the project, explains how staff try to weave maths-related questions into lessons about other subjects to tackle this. “In the workshop we try to make it like a working environment as opposed to like a school,” he says. “But we try to bring maths into anything that we do.”
Many of the young people have been let down in the past, but that over time they learn to trust the instructors, says McCullum. “We don’t talk about our private lives but we talk about the positive outcomes that can be achieved,” he says. “The kids know the people who will go the extra mile for them.”
Sloane has submitted planning applications for a water sports centre and farm following the Trax model, which he hopes to start building in a year’s time. He sold his house to set up the original business – much to his wife’s alarm – after being refused a loan by his then bank manager. He says that this time round such drastic action won’t be necessary, something his wife will no doubt be relieved to hear.
Find out more about the scheme at www.traxgroup.co.ukPublished in the 16 April 2009 issue of Community Care under the heading ‘Circuit Training’