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Blog: Review visits ‘blew us away’

rugby IMG_7555 (1)Alliance of Sport Co-Founders James Mapstone and Justin Coleman recently visited 13 organisations in England and Wales as part of our Review of Sport in Criminal Justice. What they found only deepened their conviction that the power of sport holds immense potential in tackling crime.

JM: On our travels, myself and Justin visited some incredible organisations run by role models whose local relationships, knowledge of issues and understanding of the local need means they are achieving sensational results. Their skill and passion are amazing. Collectively, they’re like an extension of the criminal justice system.

Very often, how these people and organisations make an impact is not through formal means, it’s with on-the-ground life experience and a connection to each young person.

They put the person first, and the sport second – that’s the key. In my opinion, the sector is more a case of ‘Development through sport’, rather than ‘Sport for Development’. There’s a subtle difference.

All the projects we visited in prisons and in the community are delivering outstanding results with at-risk young people using sport as their vehicle.

There are still some people who don’t fully understand its power as a preventative and rehabilitative tool. It can be part of a high-impact solution to offending.

In order to broaden sport’s impact and start to make a real difference nationally, this sector needs leadership, self-confidence and co-ordination to ‘bang its drum’.

That’s what the Alliance is here to do, and this Review is a crucial part of that process.

JC: What blew me away about many of the community sport organisations is the variety of person-centred outcomes they achieve. Their starting point is: ‘What does this person want to achieve?’

One quote through the whole process resonated with me greatly: “Changing the world, one person at a time.”

Unlike projects that take place within the criminal justice system (that are by definition more ‘formal’), community organisations allow young people to apply themselves on their own terms and at their own pace. It’s their choice and within their control.

It’s not an appointment they have to keep, it’s based on organic relationships, which are very, very powerful and cover the life course of a person in the community. The engagement process can take a year in some cases, but the effects can last a lifetime.

Sport provides an oasis from the chaotic situations in their lives. It’s about having someone there to trust, be honest with them, positively challenge, make them smile and take them away from their problems.

The people in these organisations, for me, are heroes. It’s not a 9-5 role, it’s a ‘life role’. They are an integral part of their communities, and are led by passion, compassion and skill. More often than not, their work goes far beyond the scope of their funding.

Statutory services must learn how to link up with these community projects. So often statutory provision relies on a good worker forming a relationship. If that worker leaves, the relationship is over and the impact disappears. By contrast, a community boxing or football club can remain a safety net forever. They are plugging vital gaps in communities.

This Review will collect these inspiring examples of best practice from across England and Wales, forming a robust base of evidence that that will form the ideal platform for funders and Government policy makers to invest in the effective use of sport across communities and youth justice.