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One of the Bridport Bandits' Nissan Micras at the workshop in Bridport

On Track for Better Careers with Bridport Bandits

A young people’s motorsport project set up more than 20 years ago in Bridport, originally to turn around the lives of youngsters convicted of car crime, has been so successful that its members are fixing cars professionally, and in one case, owning a garage and employing former club members in West Dorset.

Bridport Bandits, the popular name for the Bridport Autograss Racing Club, have thrown off their original image to take boys and girls aged 11-18 with an interest in cars and teach them basic skills and more at their workshops, as well as the chance to drive in autograss races (from age 12 upwards).

The club’s instructors, with links to the motor trade in and around West Dorset, prepare race vehicles for members and support young people getting their minis to race under NASA (National Autograss Sports Association) rules and regulations.

If you go into any garage in the Bridport area you’ll find someone who is a former Bridport Bandit

Club secretary Martin Singer reckons the group is probably unique. “Unlike other similar teams who get financial support from their local authority, we don’t get any, and we rely entirely on donations,” he said. “It’s an expensive sport with a cost of around £2,000 per year, per car to maintain, and not all parents can make that sort of financial contribution on behalf of their kids.”

But such is the club’s reputation for social responsibility, keeping youngsters off the streets and giving them a constructive hobby which has sparked careers, organisations like Bridport Round Table have helped the Bandits out.

“Members picked up litter after the beer festival and we were at the Boxing Day swim. In return they gave us donations for which we are grateful but we do have to actively fundraise to keep afloat,” he said. Martin spoke with pride about the success of one of the former members, Ryan Bennett. “Ryan learned the basics with us, then went on to be an apprentice, became a fully qualified mechanic, started his own business on the Pineapple Business Park in Salway Ash, and now takes on apprentices who came through the club just like him. If you go into any garage in the Bridport area you’ll find someone who is a former Bridport Bandit.”

The club races in the Junior Autograss Class with 1000cc classic minis and competes in the Southern League some Sundays, often at their home track, the Wessex Motor Racing Club at Bearley, near Tintinhull, Yeovil.

One of Bridport Bandits' Nissan Micras racing

The Bandits currently have 15-20 members and meet at their garage in Gundry Lane, next to the Bridport Youth Centre on Monday and Thursday evenings 7-9pm. Anyone interested in joining, or who has car mechanic skills to share, or would consider becoming a sponsor, should contact club secretary Martin Singer on 07888 680789.
Ryan Bennett in his Salwayash garage

‘We need more than houses’

When he was eight years old Ryan Bennett dreamed of running his own garage business. After years of hard work, that dream is a reality. Following The Yarn’s debate about the housing crisis in West Dorset, Ryan gives his view.

After all of the recent debates in our community about the housing crisis in West Dorset, I think it’s important not to overlook other aspects of development required by a growing population, namely transport, work and healthcare.

As I was born in Dorset 30 years ago and have been driving for 13, I have travelled a few miles in and around the county and used every road possible to get into it and out of it. In every direction, we are an hour away from a motorway. Heading north from Bridport, the first 15 miles can barely be described as a main road. East and west of Bridport, the road is described as a death trap every week, with various spots such as Miles Cross notorious. The A35 is frequently shut due to collisions, often fatal. A lot of accidents are found to be due to human error, but I think many people would agree that our roads just aren’t capable of taking the amount of traffic that has to use them.

The detriment to the community isn’t just the horrendous personal and financial cost of accidents, nor the delays in getting where we want to get to, there’s also the deterrent effect on potential investment by businesses and entrepreneurs who might be interested in setting up in this area. When they look at the links for receiving and distributing goods, and time factors, will they like what they see?

Some people may say that a dual carriageway in and out of Bridport isn’t going to help my son or daughter find a property to buy/rent and live in, but where do these people think their children are going to work? Jobs in Bridport can be difficult to find and with the government increasing the retirement age, with people being healthier and able to work for longer, or more strapped for cash and needing to work for longer, travelling further afield to find employment may be something that just has to be done.

I’m not saying that a factory employing 500 people on a production line is the answer, but — quite simply — if such a business were looking to set up in the South West, would Bridport with its archaic transport links even be considered?

Over the years, I can recall various new housing developments in Bridport. I reckon the population has probably increased between a quarter and a third of what it was, and with proposed developments such as Vearse Farm to the west of the town (760 houses) and the proposal for 33 new homes near Bridport Leisure Centre, the town is set to keep on growing. Which brings me on to my next big point.

After three years trying to find a building to work from, I gave up

With an increasing population, we must have enough workspace for existing businesses to grow and for new ones to start.

Having had a vision at the age of eight to have my own garage, I searched for years in Bridport to find a premises to start my dream venture.

After three years trying to find a building to work from, I gave up. I was forced to share a building with an existing tenant until something more suitable became available.

I found it quite startling that people with dreams like mine, who want to live in Bridport and do well, are hampered because the people that govern our district have no thought for us.

When I brought up the subject of increased workspace with a local councillor who is heavily involved in the Bridport local plan I was amazed to hear the phrase — “you have really surprised me saying that, no one has mentioned that yet…”


No one in local authority has even thought for one second that we may need some more industrial parks in the area for the youth to develop and prosper! Surely to anyone with sanity it’s common sense. To live in a house you need to have a job, to have a job you normally need somewhere to work !

Then there’s healthcare. Bridport’s new medical centre in West Allington was controversial. Lots of people objected to it. But it was sold to us on the basis that it would be big enough to cope with demand for years to come and that services would improve. We’d be able to see GPs without too much of a wait and a growing population would enjoy better treatment

But — have you tried making an appointment there recently? I hear more and more in conversations with family, friends and colleagues of the battle they must go through to see a GP in a reasonable amount of time. How is this issue going to be addressed if the proposed new housing developments proceed? 760 houses at Vearse Farm could mean more than 2,000 extra people living close to the town centre. Will they have to use the current services, or will additional resources be put in place?

I think it’s high time that we as a community protest to those who govern us that, as well as houses, we need the infrastructure that goes with them. Not many people would have seven children yet expect to live in a one-bedroom flat, so why is it appropriate to have thousands of houses with no suitable roads, no areas for people to work, and — most importantly — no chance of seeing your family doctor without a debate with a receptionist?

Perhaps we need to focus on one element at a time. Take transport for example: imagine that we’re travelling from London to Exeter. It’s great until Ringwood, but then — give or take a few miles — we’re stuck on a congested stop-start single carriageway until we reach Honiton — when we can join the dualled A30.

Let’s move to the future!

How about if we all pushed for a dual carriageway from Honiton to Ringwood? Think how much easier it would be for tourists to access our area, while for us, travel times to Exeter would probably be halved, going to London would not be so much of a chore, and taking the family out on a Bank Holiday weekend wouldn’t involve the daunting thought of having to leave before breakfast to beat the traffic.

I’ve name it already “H2R” — Honiton to Ringwood

Ideas like this need to be put forward if we are to keep Bridport on the map and be a prosperous, vibrant community for my generation and future ones who want to stay in the town and live here. I’ve named it already “H2R” — Honiton to Ringwood.

Perhaps someone reading this would like to start the ball rolling!