Worth restoring, not writing off

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
TOMORROW A gleaming 1920s motorcycle will be presented to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in place of the rusted heap it parted with almost a year ago.

Restoring the Triumph Junior has been a painstaking process. And all of the work has been carried out by 10 teenagers who previously weren't even capable of turning up for school, or worse, had been thrown out.

Rural and Urban Training Scheme is a charity that uses motorbikes as a means of engaging young people, mainly in the Lothians, who find conventional schooling is not for them. Last year, they worked with 250 children aged nine to 16 on a variety of programmes ranging from a four-week introduction to mechanics to a 10-week course resulting in SQA qualifications in vehicle servicing and tool handling.

The restoration project started in August last year. The bike was supplied by the National Museum of Scotland, the pound;25,000 to run the course by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the youngsters by Drummond Community High and Leith Academy in Edinburgh.

"The guys involved have all been chronic non-attenders or expelled from school," says Gordon Thom-son, a Ruts project worker. "Basically, the system has not worked for them."

Since the project started, the teenagers have been coming to the Ruts workshop in Gorebridge on either a Tuesday or a Thursday, having been picked up by Gordon in Edinburgh. The vintage bike's transformation began with stripping it down to its component parts, cataloguing every nut and bolt and noting its condition.

"It was a complete and utter wreck," admits Alastair Dodds, principal curator of transport at the National Museum of Scotland. "They have had to source things like new tyres and have even had to manufacture some parts. Parts of the ex- haust, for example, were missing."

Two weeks before the handover, they were piecing the bike back together like a hideously complicated jigsaw.

Daniel MacDonald is 15. For him, the course began as a "legal way" to get out of school. Up until then, he'd been making do with the illegal way skiving. "I didn't go to school," he says. "I never went at all. I just couldn't put up with it. I kept walking out."

He's missed some sessions at Ruts, he admits with an embarrassed smile, but not many. On average, the teenagers have attended well over 80 per cent of the programme. Two dropped out but generally, Gordon says, he's been overwhelmed by the commitment shown. "It's the summer holidays," he points out, "but they're still working."

Daniel loves it, he says. "With school you're a lot more restricted," he explains. "You have to go to every class, you get two breaks, but here you can choose what you want to do. At school they treat you like children, whereas here you're given the chance to act like an adult. It shows that you can be responsible."

Daniel has applied to join a mechanics course at Stevenson College in Edinburgh.

Gary Budge, 16, describes himself as "someone with a temper". He has been expelled from two schools, and even though he was kicked out of the last one in February, he has continued to work with Ruts.

"This has been the best experience of my life so far," says Gary. "I want to be a mechanic and to actually do this makes me feel one step closer."

As well as teaching mechanics, the project has had a historical aspect, explains Gordon. The group has set the bike they are restoring in context by grilling experts such as Mr Dodds and visiting the National Museum of Scotland's motorbike collection, which ranges from the first British motorbike to a modern Yamaha.

According to Ali Grant, the Rural and Urban Training Scheme manager, schools feel comfortable sending pupils to Ruts because they know its a "full on" learning experience. "There's a lot of literacy and numeracy involved: calculating fuel ratios, con- verting metric to imperial, reading service manuals," he says.

"For some it encourages them to see the relevance of school, and for others it's a stepping stone to college. To see that personal growth in young people who might otherwise be written off is tremendously rewarding."

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