The Sparkplug gets Evening Standard support

Fix it: Jack Dowlang, 13, and volunteer Richard Rowan at Sparkplug, King’s Cross
Picture: Lucy Young, thanks to The Evening Standard

Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund

“London is a shameful tale of two cities. In the richest capital in Europe almost half our children live below the poverty line.

“These children and their families – the Dispossessed – are cut off from the life most Londoners take for granted. As London’s paper, the Evening Standard believes it is important to champion their cause.

The Evening Standard Fund for The Dispossessed has been set up to fight poverty – and we want you to help to fight the causes behind The Dispossessed.”

And local youth project The Sparkplug is benefiting from the Standard’s Dispossessed Fund. In a lovely article last week, the Standard said:

Londoners’ passion for cycling is helping some of the most disadvantaged children and teenagers in the capital, thanks to the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund.

The Sparkplug Project in King’s Cross is teaching young people who are not in education, work or training how to repair and maintain bicycles.

Organisers of the six-week course hope it will encourage them into schools, colleges and employment.

Sparkplug was set up in 2002 to work with young men who had been caught joyriding on scooters. They learned mechanics for motorbikes and were given the chance to enjoy off-road riding with mentors.

Recently, however, Sparkplug realised the huge rise in cyclists in London had not been matched by an increase in bike repair shops. It will use a Dispossessed grant of £19,843 to fund the new course: broken and dilapidated bikes are being taken to the workshop, where youths are taught to mend and maintain them — with the promise of keeping the finished article at the end.

During the course, project staff talk to them about life skills, numeracy, literacy and employment, including getting formal mechanic qualifications and  setting up bike repair businesses. About 10 per cent of Londoners aged 16 to 19 are classed as Neets — not in employment, education or training. This rises to one in five in some boroughs, such as Islington. Research suggests Neets are 20 times more likely to commit a crime than average, and 22 times more likely to be a teen parent.

Sparkplug also works with younger children at risk of falling out of mainstream education.

Organisers said the new project had sparked an overwhelming response. Steve Devereux, 46, a mechanic on the project, said: “Working with bikes is just a way to engage them, but it works because they don’t feel they’re being hassled about school or jobs when we talk to them. A lot of things come out that they haven’t told other people.

“A lot don’t have dads and don’t have skills like changing a tyre or repairing a broken chain, or anyone to talk to. Someone I worked with on the motorbike project is now in a repair shop, getting good money and happy.”

The Dispossessed Fund now stands at £8.3 million, thanks to the generosity of Standard readers and a £1 million donation by Sport Relief.

About Sophie Talbot

Sophie runs a small business designing websites for small businesses and community groups. http://www.cookiewp.com She also manages King's Cross Community Projects http://www.kccp.org.uk
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