From policing to pedalling

PC David Sparks set up the project after cancer made him re-evaluate his life
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor

PC Sparks with last year's winners of the London Youth Games. Image: COG
PC Sparks with last year’s winners of the London Youth Games. Image: COG

A Waltham Forest policeman has become a full-time BMX Coach for the borough’s youth in an effort to keep them on the right track.

PC David Sparks, 55, has been volunteering in his spare time to teach the young people cycling and cycling mechanics for the last six years.

His Community Outdoor Group (COG), runs courses at a BMX track at Cheney Row Park, Balance Biking at Higham Hill Park and Mountain Biking at Higham’s Park, providing bikes and equipment for a suggested donation of only £2.

About 100 young people train each week, with some going on to win gold and silver medals at last year’s London Youth Games.

PC Sparks told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he set up the project after fighting off cancer and deciding he wanted to work with young people in a way that is less usual for police officers.

He said: “It sounds very cheesy, but when I was off and having chemo… I started to reflect on what I was doing with my life.”

PC Sparks, who had previously policed in Waltham Forest and more recently as a traffic officer, contacted the council and the project “grew from there”.

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He is now a full-time youth engagement officer role for the Met’s North East BCU – working with Newham and Waltham Forest Councils.

This means PC Sparks is one of four local officers who works with young people, including those at-risk of offending, to train them in BMX skills and mechanics.

He said: “I do care about kids, I don’t want them getting involved in things they will regret.

“We all have chances, I grew up on a council estate. I’m not some rich kid, I do get it, I understand the world they come from to a degree.

“I left school with no qualifications, I was a naughty boy and was lucky not to get into more situations.”

Growing up in Woodford, he said he spent a lot of his childhood at Hollow Ponds on his BMX.

“What’s scary is that a lot of the youngsters that come in have never been in the forest, that’s a real eye opener for us. It’s great riding through seeing things that they have never noticed.”

His ambition now is to build a regional size track in the borough, launch a COG organisation in Newham and start teaching carpentry skills.

He said: “I want to put Waltham Forest on the map by having its own track – regional sized –  the only one in East London.

“That will then bring children from the whole quadrant to Waltham Forest.”

Learn more about what COG offers on their website: https://cogcycling.co.uk/

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