Rural scheme gets people on their bikes and into work;Further education

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
ENGINEERING apprentice Jason Revill is now making his own way in the world thanks to a scheme to help people get on their bikes and into jobs and training.

Under the Jump Start scheme, Jason, aged 17, from Coleford in the Forest of Dean, gets the loan of a Honda moped for six months.

It means he can get to work and college under his own steam. "If I didn't have the bike I wouldn't be able to get down there," he said. "There are no buses."

Jump Start is one of a number of initiatives aimed at escaping the "no transport, no job" trap in remote rural areas by leasing out bikes and mopeds.

It was set up by Gloucestershire Rural Community Council following research by Oxford Brookes University.

The study, conducted in the mainly affluent Cotswolds, found pockets of youngsters, women and unemployed whose jobs, training and education opportunities were limited by poor transport.

After a successful pilot, Jump Start now covers the whole of rural Gloucestershire and is funded by the Single Regeneration Budget and local authorities.

As well as leasing bikes and mopeds, it offers subsidised driving lessons and there are small grants available, for example, to help someone get their car back on the road or to tax it.

The scheme has been running for three years. It employs "transport brokers" who liaise with the employment service, and now its organisers are developing links with the county's further education colleges.

Co-ordinator Richard Noonan said: "I think it's made a significant difference. It's very much on an individual level, and also there are spin-offs - it's not just getting somebody back into work.

"One young chap we leased a moped to, when I was dealing with him he was difficult to work with - his social skills were quite poor. He lived in a remote village and didn't get out. I passed him in the street about five weeks after he'd found work and I didn't recognise him, he'd changed so completely."

Graham Weaver is the scheme's broker for the Forest of Dean, and operates from JobCentres in Lydney and Cinderford. "I try and see anyone who enquires, either through their own initiative or through the employment service.

"Most of the time I'm dealing with people who are unemployed. Often they feel there's no chance of going for a job or training place because they can't get there or get home. I try and help them with public transport first. Although there have been improvements, often the buses don't coincide with employment opportunities. If that doesn't work, we can loan people pushbikes if it's a sensible distance to work or college."

The bike and moped loan idea originated in Herefordshire with a pioneering project called Wheels to Work. Since it began in 1995, the idea has spread. As well as Jump Start, there are similar loan schemes in Somerset, South Worcestershire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire, with others being set up in Suffolk and Warwickshire.

Mike Trowmans, a youth worker and himself a devout biker, was behind the first scheme in North Herefordshire. Now he has put in a bid for Lottery funding to run Wheels to Work in Shropshire, and eventually aims to have a fleet of more than 40 mopeds on the road.

He says that of 110 youngsters the Herefordshire project supported, 90 per cent are still in full-time employment or training. "It has been a huge success, no doubt about that," he said.

"It works, and it's comparatively economical, especially when you put it against some of the job creation schemes in urban areas.

"My operational costs are peanuts. It's virtually a free loan situation. We pay for the compulsory basic training, we provide a crash helmet. The moped is insured fully comprehensive and taxed, and we provide a full service and back-up recovery service.

"There are particular implications at the moment for New Deal. Research has shown that a significant number of clients going through the employment services on New Deal have transport needs.

"It's particularly pertinent for agricultural colleges because the youngsters often have to access placements in fairly out-of-the-way places like farms or large estates.

"I supported a young man who worked on a country estate at night and was doing a two-year NVQ level 2 in gamekeeping, and it was 17 miles away.

"As far as public transport was concerned, you could forget it. It's that kind of situation where this is invaluable."

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