In Conversation with Roy Pratt, MBE, Founder Member of the Impstart Trust
From rusty bike renovation to internationally renowned motorcycle display riding team, Roy relates the story of chance meetings, Royal connections, and lifetime friendships.
How did it all begin, Roy?
In 1969, I was running a summer holiday project for children in East London. We didn’t have any money. We basically had plastic bags and drums for a raft-building exercise. Based on a farm, we found 2 old derelict motorbikes in the barn which the farmer kindly donated to us. I foolishly said, “Kids, if you can get them going, I’ll teach you how to ride them!” And, to my astonishment, they did get them going! It gave us a whole new purpose…
It began with the small activity of riding motorbikes as part of the programme and certainly put us on the map as it developed into a formation riding team. We had 6 bikes, and it soon became clear with all the health and safety regulations, etc, that we needed to form a small charitable trust and the Impstart Trust was born.
I gather that early sponsorship came out of the blue with a chance meeting one day?
Yes, it was by pure chance that I happened to be in the same motorcycle shop as a Honda UK rep. He overheard my conversation, and this led to 33 years of Honda sponsorship. It came to an end 22 years ago leaving us to fund our own bikes, but it was a brilliant launch and put us on the map.
Daniel Briggs, our CEO at Motorfinity, joined the IMPS when he was just 5 years old. Is this the starting age?
Daniel joined the IMPS when he was only 5 years old as you know and stayed the course until the leaving age of 17. Nobody wants to leave until they have to and when it’s time for new commitments in their lives – further education, university, and a greater social life appear.
Why do they want to stay the course – what makes it so special?
It’s the camaraderie! When not operating, they all still contact each other and travel to each other rather than reach out to friends round the corner – they become friends for life. They go to each other’s weddings and other family gatherings and stay in touch forever.
What skills are learnt by being a part of the IMPS Motorcycle Display Team?
Probably not what most people think! Many team skills – teamwork, structure, discipline, safety aspects, the ability meet and talk to the public. Travel is a great way of learning and developing self-confidence and there’s many opportunities for that. Of course, motorcycle skills are taught alongside a full range of other adventure activities. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn many life skills.
Many congratulations on your MBE, Roy, back in 2002. It must have been a great honour receiving it from the Queen?
It cannot be anything but! I felt highly privileged. It was nothing short of outstanding. Her knowledge is remarkable, and she was well informed about my group.
Apart from that, the IMPS have a long-standing relationship with Princess Anne who is President of the Edinburgh Tattoo where we have performed many times.
Also, as president of a national youth organisation, she visited us when the Docklands rebuild programme was complete and we were about to be made homeless. Because of something she said, we were relocated and ended up with our own base.
Princess Anne has been outstanding – very hard-working. She came one very cold October evening and coloured lights, marquees, etc appeared together with VIPs we wouldn’t normally see! She was the courteous Royal speaking briefly to them before spending the evening speaking to every child. She didn’t miss anybody out saying, “I’m here to see the children!”
How do you finance your activities?
None of the staff or the children get paid – we are a charity, and we simply get expenses for our shows with all money going into the pot to pay for maintenance and equipment. When Covid struck, everything was cancelled, and no funds were coming in. That’s when a group of our long-term members came up with the new sponsorship idea. We have now launched our Buy-a-Bike 2022 Campaign and we are two-thirds up the ladder to achieving our target.
This is brilliant in the wake of the impact that Covid had on many venues and acts. We feel we are just coming back from it.
Motorfinity are thrilled to sponsor a bike – particularly as CEO, Daniel was an IMP himself. His recent return to see you sounded thrilling?
Yes, we borrowed Daniel’s Ford Mustang Mach-E to perform one of our manoevres – we’re not fussy who’s vehicle we use!
So, what’s next?
We have a full itinerary until the end of September with the highlight being the Norwegian Tattoo. It’s an indoor event unlike the Edinburgh Tattoo. We’re used to the Scottish weather, and we’ve never not performed because of bad weather! We’ve had ice-flow spilling over our boots and still completed our act. Can you imagine getting all that uniform and equipment dry ready for the next performance!
Finally, what do you think has been the key factor keeping your organisation going for all these years?
The most important factor is the children, not the motorbikes. The motorbike is a therapeutic tool for working with the children. We now have adapted bikes for children who cannot walk, and their lives are enlightened.