Wheels of change

How a UQ graduate is steering children to a sense of freedom,
autonomy and creativity through a hands-on concept.

For somebody who is focused, successful and creating quantifiable change in the community, UQ graduate Sandy Murdoch has a surprising confession to make about his Traction program.

“I feel I can relate to young people who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up,” says Sandy.

“I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1992, and my career has taken me down several different paths in the business sector.

“The point that strikes home for me is I was fortunate to come from a stable background where I was supported, but a lot of these kids are facing significant challenges at such as young age.

“At Traction, we provide support that empowers young people in need so they can build their own future.”

Traction works by mentoring youth through the redesign, refurbishment and customisation of their own mechanical projects.

Participants get their hands on a bicycle, motorbike, lawn mower or other piece of machinery and learn how to use tools and imagination to bring it back to life, leaving a personal mark on the object in the process.

The whole concept relies heavily on public donations of equipment such as bikes, on financial support from sponsors and backers, and on generous mentors who volunteer their time to pass on skills.

“At the end of the project, the participants have a chance to keep what they’ve made,” says Sandy.

“We provide an action-based learning environment, where our participants can set goals and build self-confidence and belief.

“Traction is a place where they can change their surrounds with their own two hands, and learn valuable skills – both for life and for possible careers.

“Bikes are a perfect medium to work on because they’ve got that cool factor and they promote a sense of freedom, independence and physical activity, which are all important in the 12-17 age group we target.

“Participants turn old rust-buckets into shiny designs of their choosing and doing, building confidence and empowerment along the way.”

Murdoch emphasises that Traction does not only teach kids to become mechanics.

He’s had children who have come through with interests in graphic design, art, and the financial aspects of repair and resale.

Children are taught to work within a budget when refurbishing their project, prioritising upgrades based on practical considerations.

Communication skills, teamwork and project management are also imparted as they see their creation through to completion.

“It’s an exceptionally rewarding program to be a part of. We’ve received fantastic feedback since kicking off in July 2015,” says Sandy.

“Some kids may not be hitting their potential at school, but they excel at this and it shows them they have unique talents and can be successful.

“Reports are that, once kids finish Traction workshops, their attendance rates at school improve and the amount of disciplinary attention they require is lessened.

“There’s a real inter-generational aspect between the mentors and the students, and you see the difference it makes as they start to open up and share their own circumstances.”

Currently Traction is engaging students from across UQ’s Health and Humanities areas to work and report on their mentorship program.

You can become a mentor, donate an old bike or machine, or become a sponsor of Traction by following these links.