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How can we scale up football’s positive impact on crime?

Football’s positive impact on crime, violence and reoffending was the subject of the sixth meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System.

Speakers from the Premier League Charitable Fund, English Football League Trust, Charlton Athletic Community Trust and Stoke City Community Trust all showed how the vehicle of football can engage people in local communities who are in, or at risk of entering, the Criminal Justice System.

Football can be a vital tool in effective prevention, early intervention and providing opportunities to engage and re-engage people at all stages of their journey. It can not only impact positively on the health, wellbeing and life prospects of individuals, but create safer communities and have economic benefits too.

The Premier League Charitable Fund, for example, runs its Premier League Kicks youth engagement programme for 8-18-year-olds in areas of high need to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve community safety. Around 72,000 young people take part every year at 90 professional clubs who offer young people routes into education, training, employment and volunteering. Notably, 20% of the coaching and delivery staff are former participants.

In addition, the Premier League Kicks Targeted programme works with statutory partners, using football to engage perpetrators and victims of youth violence and guide them (back) into education, employment or training. The scheme has engaged over 1300 young people since 2019.

Similarly, the EFL Trust uses its network of 71 Club Community Organisations to improve health and wellbeing, raise aspirations, realise potential and build stronger, more cohesive communities. Included in this remit are extensive diversionary offers and programmes within the prison estate and with prison leavers in the community, all funded by a myriad of different sources and moulded to local need.

Although the football club trusts deliver national schemes, there is a great diversity in the content of programmes, staff training and experience, methodologies, outcomes, ways of measuring impact and funding sources. The clubs’ work in their local communities is to be highly admired, but the lack of uniformity and coordination presents challenges to building an evidence base which will justify further investment to enable this work to be scaled up.

Having outlined the incredible contribution made by the EFL Trust network across the criminal justice system over a number of years, Loo Brackpool, the EFL Trust’s Head of Participation and Community Engagement, said: “There’s so much going on at a local level and such a wide variety of outcomes, ways of monitoring and evaluating, that it can be difficult to find what works and what the impact is.”

Director of Youth and Inclusion, Charlie MacDonald, outlined the incredible work of his organisation, Charlton Athletic Community Trust. They link up with statutory services including the local Youth Offending Team to provide a safety net for young people who are caught up in crime or vulnerable to exploitation. Their huge range of programmes receives £6m of funding. “The breadth of our delivery allows us to slot young people into the right level of provision and move them accordingly as their needs change,” said MacDonald.

Charlton Athletic’s strong web of partnerships with other local agencies and organisations, the high levels of training and lived experience of its staff, the scope of their delivery and the size of their funding are all hugely impressive. Unfortunately, these factors are inconsistent across other football club community organisations, which leads to vastly different outcomes and resulting difficulty in measuring impact at scale, identifying best practice and building a legitimate evidence base.

Dave Bartrum, Education manager at Stoke City Community Trust, offered a powerful case study of how early intervention had helped support “Zoe”. She had participated in their programmes as a youngster but thereafter experienced severe adversity and disadvantage and served a long prison sentence for violence. On her release, it was Stoke City Trust she reached out to for support (nine years on from her last engagement with them), as they had provided a safe and supportive environment.

Bartrum said: “Longer-term funding is absolutely necessary to support work in which building relationships and gaining trust of young people, who in many cases have undergone trauma, takes time. It makes the world of difference.”

James Mapstone, CEO of the APPG’s Secretariat, the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, said: “What came out strongly from the meeting is that there is some fantastic work within football to support those within, or on the fringes of the Criminal Justice System. However, the myriad of different partnerships and disjointed evidencing of the impact is reducing opportunities to prove ‘what works’. That in turn has an adverse impact on being able to influence greater investment in the sector to support and enhance this amazing work.

“There is a clear need for more focused leadership and coordination which is precisely what the Alliance of Sport’s new Taskforce on Physical Activity and Sport in the Criminal Justice System was set up to achieve. Its work to build to build an evidence framework influence future policy, practice and investment is already under way.”

(Main photo by Jason Charters on Unsplash)