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Teaching disadvantaged young people bike skills in a virtual world

Published on: 17 Jun 2020


Meet Hamish Cameron. Ultra passionate about his job as a youth worker for Warwickshire County Council. Perhaps a knee injury was a blessing in disguise, as it meant he didn’t end up in the army as he’d first planned. After gaining an engineering degree and feeling disillusioned with factory work he was asked to help in the Play Station youth library project as a volunteer. He really enjoyed it. He got part time jobs to support him, in fact he had eight at one point! That was almost 20 years ago and he’s been working with young people ever since, gaining his professional youth work qualification along the way.

I get to help young people everyday

“I just love my job because I get to help young people every day,” says Hamish. “It’s rewarding because you’ve got to work hard to build up trust with young people. The kids I work with have been let down continually, they’ve had a tough start in life so they need adults to be reliable and consistent,” he adds.

When 50 old bikes were donated from Warwick University to the Council a successful bid to the Police and Crime Commissioner funded a project to help young people develop bike maintenance and riding skills. The young people on the project were from care, referred by social and family workers or in danger of being excluded from school.

 We want to instil a love of riding and a lot more

The Bike Project started back in October 2019 with face to face sessions, teaching the young people to use tools safely; not only did the sessions help them to build a roadworthy bike for transport and independence but they also developed their social skills too. Hamish says, “The bikes are really just a hook, yes we want to instil a love of riding, teach them to be safe on the roads and help them use tools safely too.  But it’s more than this. It’s about helping them engage in life and giving them a focus too.”

The pandemic meant delivering the service very differently

Anyone who says the pandemic ‘had a silver lining’ could be considered a little odd, but for Hamish it meant delivering a service very differently.

As Hamish explains, “The Lockdown changed everything. We couldn’t meet young people face to face. We had to close our buildings, everywhere we were encouraging young people to gather. So, rather than let the project stall, we thought let’s trial our bike programme using technology. We set up a virtual bike maintenance workshop – backed up with support provided via WhatsApp, texts and other online support. It’s working well for the Bike Project so we’ve started trying it in other areas.”

Using technology to engage young people

Another project is the Voice of Youth Project. It’s a bit like a Youth Council when young people come and present their ideas to councillors. Sometimes these can feel a little contrived, but now with young people using technology to engage it’s far more real.

One topic they have been discussing is the environment and they have been using social media to engage with one another and agree actions and ownership.

Some of the people that Hamish works with can be really challenging and he has to think creatively about how he can help them. One of his 18 one-to-ones is a girl who has made numerous suicide attempts and has ended up in hospital; she’s autistic too. Hamish is working with her to design a model house – a ‘place you would like to live in’. This is helping her to find something positive to focus on, that they can talk about. In lockdown they’ve been continuing working on the project by exchanging texts and calls about it, which is really helping her maintain control and focus on something positive.

Grab what you can, get some experience if you want to work with young people

Hamish thinks there’s a better future for youth work these days with more Government investment and recognition of the benefits. His advice for those keen to work in it? “Grab anything you can. Get some experience as a volunteer, that may lead to other things and a traineeship when you can do a youth work degree whilst working.”

Warwickshire CC