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The Surrey Hills Society visit the GASP Motor Project in Albury

PUBLISHED: 12:21 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:21 16 August 2017

Chris (centre) with GASP members, Sally Varah (left) and Surrey Hills Society members

Chris (centre) with GASP members, Sally Varah (left) and Surrey Hills Society members

Archant

Even those who spend their days celebrating our Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty can be surprised by what they find down the country lanes, as chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Christine Howard, discovers when she visits the GASP Motor Project in Albury

Woking High with Prince EdwardWoking High with Prince Edward

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2017

***

I still get surprised when I discover things happening in the Surrey Hills that are right under my nose, and I know nothing about. This happened recently when I was invited to visit an extraordinary youth project at the bottom of Newlands Corner in Albury, near Guildford.

The GASP Motor Project was launched in 2005 as an evening activity for young people in and around the locality of Gomshall, Albury, Shere and Peaslake (hence the acronym, GASP). The concept was conceived by the Lychgate Youth Trust, Surrey Police and Surrey Probation Service, who recognised the need for a diversionary activity for – among others – young people joyriding and torching stolen cars in our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The project is now a registered charity and runs daytime, after school and evening programmes with young people, aged 14 to 19, to give them hands¬on motor mechanics and practical engineering skills, which often results in them achieving recognised accreditations. The sessions are delivered in a modern, custom¬built workshop, which opened in 2012 and was built to GASP specifications by the Northumberland Estates – or from their customised Mobile Workshop, which travels across Surrey. Today, the work of GASP is so well respected that both HRH The Duke of Kent and HRH The Earl of Wessex have visited – Prince Edward in February of this year.

Life-changing opportunities

Sally Varah MBE DL, the current chairman told me that in 2008/2009 she undertook the role of High Sheriff in Surrey, in place of her late husband, Michael, when he died suddenly. As Surrey’s chief Probation Officer he had supported the foundation of the GASP Motor Project and respected the changes in behaviours that the charity brings about. Sally said she was similarly impressed by the outcomes achieved by GASP and the life¬changing opportunities it gives to ‘at risk’ and marginalised young people, in a county where the gap between rich and poor is extreme. In the New Year Honours List 2016 she was awarded an MBE, in part for her developmental work as Chair of the GASP Motor Project.

One of the things I found inspiring about the project was the range of local companies that had got behind this small charity. More important than money is the opportunities these companies offer the young people who take part. Unum, based in Dorking funded a 10-week industry¬linked programme with Therfield School and Johnston Sweepers, where students gained experience working on the production line, and McLaren in Woking, offers its prestigious premises for the GASP Awards presentation events.

Other Surrey organisations lending a hand include: Stanhope-Seta, who piloted the industry programme, and the Rutland Group, who manage Dunsfold Park and offer their racing track for the GASP evening teams to race the electric kit cars they have built. Canon UK, in Reigate, sponsor the project’s printing requirements. Many opportunities for collaborative working have been offered by Brooklands Museum in recent years and in 2016, the very Shere Hill Climb event for classic cars gave profits raised from the event to GASP. In May of this year, Guildford Symphony Orchestra had a retiring fund at their Tango Fiesta concert at G Live in Guildford to raise much-needed cash to support the work of GASP.

Just as the Surrey Hills Society is a network of people working to support the special countryside here in Surrey, the GASP Motor Project and its network of supporters are making a real difference to young people’s lives from this tiny workshop at the base of one of Surrey’s most famous beauty spots.

- For more information about the GASP Motor Project, visit gaspmotorproject.org

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