Luke on the Right Track thanks to Changing Gearz

Based in Griffithstown near Pontypool, Changing Gearz works with young people aged 14 - 24 referred to the LIFT / CODI project located on the Panteg industrial estate. The project targets young people who have become disengaged from school or training or who are not in employment. It aims to improve their confidence, skills, education and employability by providing a range of accredited training in bike maintenance and repair, mountain bike leadership, cycle proficiency, administration, marketing and web development.

Once repaired, the bikes donated to or purchased by the project are sold on in the community and any profits are pumped back into the social enterprise to provide more staff, apprentices and training opportunities. The project was established in March 2014 and has supported over 120 young people, primarily from the Torfaen area, since its inception. Four young local apprentices who were previously unemployed have also been taken on.

With their award of £7,280 Changing Gearz will now employ a specialist tutor/mechanic for six months who will train and qualify six young people to become accredited trainers themselves. It is planned that the newly trained individuals will then teach other young people who are disengaged from education or training to undertake cycling training in schools and to educate children in the safe use of cycles.

One of the young apprentices currently reaping the rewards from the project is 18 year old Luke Cawkwell from Cwmbran. Luke's life was fast heading down a slippery slope to nowhere after he left school. He fell in with the wrong crowd and started getting into trouble.

He became involved in the Changing Gearz project through a training centre in Croesyceiliog where he was attending to try and secure some additional qualifications. After volunteering at the project for two months, he was eventually taken on as a paid apprentice and now supports other young people who are going through the same experiences.

"Getting this job is one of the things that helped change me for the better and keep me on the straight and narrow," says Luke.

"Coming here made me realise that the world isn't just about what I was doing at the time. There are young people who come here now who are going through exactly the same things I went through. I can understand how they feel and I know how I can help them because I've been in that position before. If it wasn't for this project, I probably wouldn't have changed and I'd still be doing the exact same thing. As well as teaching the young people about bike mechanics, it's also nice to be able to pass on some valuable life lessons I've learned along the way."

According to Luke, the project also helps tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in the community and teaches young people valuable and transferable skills.

"It keeps young people off the streets and stops them from doing things they shouldn't be doing," says Luke.

"It also gives them a passion for bikes and enables them to meet new people. Day to day in the project we mostly fix up all the bikes that come in here and make sure they're all right.

We also travel round to different events in the community to promote the work that we do and to sell some of the bikes. It's nice to see money from something so negative being put into something so positive which benefits so many people in the community.

This project helps the community by buying bikes which may have been lost or stolen which we then sell on at a cheaper price after repairing them. It means that people who traditionally can't afford a bike can own one and it also means that more people are getting out into the fresh air and becoming fit and active. It also gives parents peace of mind when they know that their children are here and not out there potentially doing stupid things."

Luke has learnt a range of transferrable skills since being involved with the project, including customer service, sales and a range of bike maintenance and training skills.

"It's also helped me as a person by building my confidence," says Luke.

"In future I'd like to carry on working in the same trade with bikes and perhaps progress to working as a mechanic on motorbikes or cars. I would also be interested in working with young people in a similar role as I find it incredibly satisfying doing that kind of work here."

For more information about the Changing Gearz project visit www.changinggearz.co.uk