Educationalist Ian Herron well understands the aspirational appeal to many teenagers of a dynamic black Mercedes-Benz – not only does his new Vito Sport van tick all the boxes in terms of practicality, but it’s also ‘dressed to impress’.
Former teacher Ian is the Director of ENGAGE, a company based in Blyth, Northumberland, that works with disadvantaged and disaffected students aged 14-16. It enables them to improve their skills in ‘real work’ settings, raising their confidence and preparing them for further education or employment.
Supplied by North-East Dealer Bell Truck and Van, the Long-bodied Vito Sport is certainly a sharp looker, thanks to its colour-coded bumpers and door mirror covers, chrome grille, sidebars and other trim, and 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. As a crew van model it came with a second row of seats, so can carry up to four passengers while retaining a useful 3.6m3 of cargo space.
The Vito’s advanced, 2.1-litre twin-turbo diesel produces a spirited 163 hp and 380 Nm of torque, yet is also capable of an outstanding 47.1 mpg (combined cycle). Meanwhile, the reassuring armoury of standard-fit Mercedes-Benz safety technology includes Adaptive ESP®, ATTENTION ASSIST, Crosswind Assist, and driver and passenger airbags.
Ian Herron worked as a teacher and senior leader for 15 years, before he launched ENGAGE in 2015. “We seek to introduce the most disaffected young people to the meaning of respect and hard work, and the benefits both can offer,” he said. “It is hugely rewarding to see an individual with little confidence and no idea how much talent they have, achieve a goal they have set themselves.”
ENGAGE differentiates itself from other providers by focusing not only on vocational training, but also on academic subjects. “I realised long ago that many of the students I was excluding from school were incredibly bright,” explained Ian. “Instead of pigeon-holing and training them for a trade such as brick-laying or joinery, we therefore also focus on GCSE English, Maths and Science.
“A lot of the young people we support are certainly good with their hands and do enjoy the vocational side of what we offer. But they also recognise that to get an apprenticeship these days, they need academic skills and qualifications as well.”
ENGAGE works closely with schools and education authorities, and its team of teachers and assistants now also operate from a second facility in Alnwick. Having been under-achievers in mainstream education, their students – there are 63 on the roll today – invariably make rapid progress.
Ian continued: “One of the biggest issues with some of these children is actually getting them into school. Attendance levels can be very low, so we pick them up and drop them off each day.
“We do so in nice cars because it helps to reassure parents that we’re running a professional operation with high standards, and because status is important to many of these children – if you turn up in a rickety minibus they’re less likely to get in.
“However, smart cars aren’t appropriate for ferrying students to and from some of the vocational sites at which we work, not least because we also need to carry tools and materials – we partner with a lot of local charities and projects, and one recent example saw us undertaking repairs at a local animal sanctuary free of charge.”
The requirement for a practical vehicle capable of carrying students and cargo in safety and style prompted a visit to Bell Truck and Van’s branch in Longbenton, to find out more about what the Mercedes-Benz Vans range had to offer.
“The response from Bell’s sales executive Andrew Scott was brilliant,” Ian recalled. “I explained what we needed and he arranged a test drive of a Vito Sport. I was sold within minutes of setting off.
“Andrew arranged the competitive funding from Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, while we’ve also fixed our costs for routine maintenance by signing up to a Service Plan. The process of acquiring the vehicle could not have been quicker or easier.”
Ian added: “Our new Vito Sport is a real pleasure to drive, and very smooth, while its comprehensive safety specification gives us the peace of mind which comes from knowing we’ve done all we can to keep our students safe while they’re on the road. Needless to say, the kids love it.”