Did you know that there is a motocross track just around the corner from Splott where staff and volunteers work tyrelessly (get it!) to help young people learn how to ride responsibly, respect bikes and gain qualifications and employment opportunities?
Mark Thomas is a volunteer coordinator for Foreshore MXC working hard to reduce antisocial behaviour and irresponsible motor bike use on our streets and this week he gave an interview to Inksplott to tell us all about one of Splott’s best kept secrets.
Inksplott: Hi Mark Thomas, thank you for being interviewed for Inksplott. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your work you do for Cardiff Council, at the Cardiff Motocross Track Foreshore MXC?
Mark Thomas: My Name is Mark Thomas I`m the Volunteer coordinator For the off road bike track located just off Rover way. I have been working at the track for 11 Years now. Cardiff County Council created a unique partnership that resulted in the provision and operation of a moto-cross (moto-x) track, together with a programme of education and enforcement in order to reduce anti-social behaviour associated with the use of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (quads) on parks, open spaces and roads.
Inksplott: How did you get into this? Can you please tell us a little about the history of the project?
Mark Thomas: I had a bike for my 5th Birthday and I`m an avid farmer which started my interest in building tracks on my parents farm at an early age. I was very lucky to get into the sport of motocross which gave me the opportunities to travel all around the world, carrying the Welsh flag from Dubai to Norway to Jakarta, Indonesia and Guatemala, competing in Freestyle Motocross, gaining some top honours along the way. I have been a Welsh Champion as a schoolboy and I was one of the very first who joined the Red Bull Freestyle Motocross tour in the UK. I went on to manage a Freestyle Motocross team for 8 years, a role that gave me the freedom to organise high profile Freestyle Motocross shows all over the world. My main focus is trying to promote the sport of motocross in a positive light and reduce the antisocial behaviour problems linked to off road bikes across the City of Cardiff by offering provision as an option. In 2009 I started to develop a friends group who organised and supported direct volunteer action on the track in order to facilitate a legal activity for those young people who were classed as disadvantaged or disengaged.
Links were made to ensure that young people received educational training in all aspects of track operation (stewarding, Marshalling, Coaching and Clerk of Course) and that they could access other educational opportunities (BTEC Vocational Studies qualification). Volunteers organised a collection and return transport system to help youths to reach the site, in turn having a positive impact on communities due to reduced illegal riding activity on public open spaces resulting in a reduction of environmental damage. The provision element of the project has been very successful in helping to reduce illegal off-road activity as it provides an attractive, legal alternative for young people to participate in the activity or as a sport. The project is currently working with the off-road bike enforcement team to develop ways to enable them to have a greater presence in problem areas more regularly. The education programs have become very successful in educating and training many disenfranchised youths, most of whom have been, or were close to being, excluded from school, as demonstrated by the 689 youths that have gained BTEC certificates and the 357 registered youth volunteers
Inksplott: And why is the project in Splott?
Mark Thomas: The moto-x track was developed on a derelict, former landfill site that itself had a number of problems such as fly tipping. The design of the track required specific expertise in order to maximise the use of the site for the differing categories of user (from police referrals associated with anti-social behaviour to professional competition riders). The site was already in the ownership of Cardiff County Council, and although noise had been identified as a major issue, this site out of several considered demonstrated no discernible pollution from noise which might impact on households due to the industrial nature of the area. An environmental impact assessment was undertaken and planning permission was granted in December 2007 with a condition that no construction would take place until March 2007 to take account of the migratory bird population inhabiting the site. The track started operating on a limited opening time basis from 5th Oct 2007 and became fully operational in Feb 2008.
Inksplott: What’s your speciality?
Mark Thomas: My speciality I would say is mechanical engineering, community development and coaching motocross skills. The programme to date has seen 1430330 volunteer hours linked to the site since 2007 and I have done this in a number of ways.
The program to date has sought to provide a pathway to education for disaffected youth and vulnerable adults together with opportunities for employment at the track. These roles and opportunities range from stewarding and marshalling to site management during club open days. This has led to the development of acceptable behaviour contracts in association with Community Safety Partnership. The programs at the track have led to the development of apprenticeship schemes with elite riders and anti-social behaviour (ASB) referrals/volunteers. It has also developed training and education opportunities with various Youth Inclusion Programmes and BTEC Vocational study courses, which have been delivered to a large number of different people across all ethnicities and socio economic backgrounds. I feel this has gone a long way to promote social inclusion, particularly for minority groups such as the Czech Romas. The club days have facilitated skills transference between different motor sport disciplines, they also improve road safety and reduce incidents.
I have developed a positive mentor scheme: in exchange for track time for their own training, some of the top moto-cross athletes in Wales have become mentors for ‘hard to reach’ young people (referrals) seen as being at risk of offending. Topics such as attitudes and images, offending behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse are some examples of the areas covered. The use of some of the top motocross athletes in the UK as positive role models is an effective way of engaging with referred youths.
The Welsh motocross Academy training programme for the elite riders of Wales plays an important part in engaging and delivering off-road training programmes for dealing with anti-social behaviour. The club supports Welsh elite riders in obtaining their coaching licences with the aim of supporting and training basic club and national level riders who would then in turn support referrals in off-road biking skills.
The positive directions scheme works with young people between the ages of 13 and 19 years who are involved with or at risk of becoming involved in criminal activity or whose behaviour puts them at risk. This scheme aims to provide an innovative service to young people who currently do not use, or are unable to access more conventional youth clubs. Young people are challenged, motivated and encouraged to reach their potential. The Positive Directions Scheme is a course split into two main areas: Personal and Social Development covering issues such as managing conflict, moral dilemmas, drug misuse and sexual health; basic motorbike maintenance and riding skills.
A comparison was made by Cardiff County Council comparing two 12 month periods of the motorcycle track operating with a 12 month period where there was no such facility. The results showed reductions in the illegal use of motorcycles across the whole city in the order of 61% and the targeted area (Pentwyn and Llanederyn districts) of 94%. This positive result rose to a sustained 64% for the subsequent 2 years across the city. It has also stated been stated in a CCW report that this meant that there had been a very beneficial impact on environmentally sensitive sites across the whole city with a considerable reduction in nuisance and associated damage and environmental degradation.
This year our focus has been trying to create better paying jobs by creating an early intervention curriculum, designed and developed linked to off-road bikes. The course aims to target year 9 students who are disengaged from mainstream education. The purpose of the course would be to provide a smooth transition from school life to a full-time college placement by offering dedicated support and tuition to allow the student to reach their potential. This has been achieved by offering a vocational subject linked to off road bikes, delivered alongside numeracy and literacy and life skills / PSE accreditations. The curriculum as a consequence, has had an impact on their level of engagement when they progress to year 10. The programme’s aim is to meet these needs by making an earlier intervention to reduce the number that would eventually fall into the not in education employment or training category.
In addition, a programme has been delivered with Careers Wales for those volunteers who were ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET). The programme looked at supporting volunteers in skills needed to seek out employment, motivation, gaining qualifications, interview techniques, and application form filling and work experience placements linked to the industry of off-road motorcycle sports, all of which were packaged into a 12 week programme. The main aim of the programme was for volunteers to secure a placement in further education or employment with the volunteer suitably motivated and skilled to carry out the placement.
Inksplott: What’s your best story since setting up the business?
Mark Thomas: A young person we started working with in 2007 is now the BSMA 2017 British Motocross Champion. The 689 qualifications young people have gained because of the work they have done at the bike track and the volunteer hours linked to the bike track. I also have a number of referrals who are now in full time employment.
Inksplott: Tell us a secret or something about Splott that we won’t know.
Mark Thomas: Splott has twice been the venue for the British Mini Bike Championship
Inksplott: Any exciting plans or events on the horizon?
Mark Thomas: There is a currently a huge demand for the education programs linked to the off road bikes and currently exploring options to meet this demand.
Inksplott: How can people follow you online? Do you have Facebook, Twitter or a website?
Mark Thomas: Yes, we have been on Facebook for some time now and have kept a photo diary of all our work. www.facebook.com/foreshoremxc we have just joined Instagram and twitter www.instagram.com/foreshoremxc www.twitter.com/foreshoremxc
Inksplott: That’s great – thank you so much for the interview and massive congratulations on all your achievements!
Foreshore MXC is on Tide Fields Rd, CF24 2RX Cardiff.