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Blog: Together, we will make a difference

jmIn his second blog, Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Chair, James Mapstone, talks about the importance of building a robust evidence base and how our new Positive Action Group will help make the case for future policy and practice.

Almost every day of my working life I have witnessed sport working successfully as a tool for development and for tackling crime. Thousands of people in Sport for Development will have seen it too.

Our next challenge as a sector is to prove it.

One of the reasons we formed the Alliance of Sport is because those in Government and the Criminal Justice System were telling us there is not enough evidence to justify investment in sport as a tool for social good. Without a robust body of evidence it will continue to have little impact on policy and strategy at national level.

We started the process of addressing this with our Theory of Change, which showed sport organisations how to record their impact. As this collective record of impact grows, the argument for including sport in national policy on crime will grow ever more persuasive.

The next step is to back that up with academic research, which at the moment is being carried out independently into many different facets of sport and crime with little cohesion or collaboration.

We aim to address that by creating a new Positive Action Group (PAG), building a robust evidence base for sport and desistance by bringing all this disparate expertise together, creating what will be an undeniable case to prove the power of sport.

On June 28 we convened 14 of these experts (and had interest from many more) at the central London offices of our hugely valued supporters DAC Beechcroft.

The great thing about the Alliance is that we have managed to gather influential individuals around the table, such as representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the Justice Data Lab.

By joining up the academics and researchers with those who have an influence on policy, the potential for making an impact nationally suddenly becomes vast. It makes the Alliance the platform for achieving an impact.

One of the leading academics around the table on June 28 was Huw Williams, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Exeter. His work centres on brain injuries and their impact on behaviour, particularly violence.

“I have often wondered how I might link the work I do in concussion care in sports with the work I do in managing crime,” he reflected. “This initiative [the Alliance of Sport] offers a great way to improve the ‘brain health’ of offenders through sport to reduce violence.”

Dr Jennifer Cumming, Reader in Sport and Exercise Psychology at the University of Birmingham and Programme Director of Mental Skills Training for Life™, was another attendee. She sees great promise in what the members of the PAG can achieve together in the future.

She says: “It is a fantastic forum for the growing community of academics and non-academics who are working together to provide evidence for the important role played by sport and physical activity in the desistance of crime, and for improving the health and well-being of the most vulnerable young people in our society.”

Professor Williams and Dr Cumming are just two examples of experts in their specific areas related to sport and crime who can now join forces with many others to provide one powerful voice which can ultimately influence government policy.

From the outset at the first PAG, we discussed a unified bid to apply for funding to build a robust, combined body of academic evidence to prove the power of sport as a tool for tackling crime and achieving positive social outcomes.

Experts at universities can access funding that we cannot, but we can provide insight into government priorities and direction on a variety of subjects, such as reducing violence or increasing support for mental health. We can highlight best practice and support them in applying for ethical clearance for their research, because in the Alliance we have some of the key figures in criminal justice who support that clearance. Together we can facilitate progress and ‘bang the drum’ for sport in the corridors of power.

So many people have told me and co-founder Justin Coleman, “We’ve been saying this stuff for years!” We have to laugh, because they’re right. People have been making recommendations about using sport to reduce crime, but without bringing together those voices, it has no impact. We’re now finally making it happen.

We’ve got many of the right people together, we’ve explored the appetite for this sort of collaborative action and we have already found it to be huge. We will now join forces and prove the power of sport and do what the Alliance does best: make a real difference.

Thank you to our supporter DAC Beechcroft for allowing us to use their central London offices to convene the Alliance of Sport.