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Beyond the Court sets new goals for girls in Croydon

England Netball have partnered with the Metropolitan Police to launch ‘Beyond the Court’, a year-long initiative to positively engage girls who are at risk of becoming involved in the Criminal Justice System and break down barriers between young people and the police.

The project is initially being delivered in the London borough of Croydon with 35 girls who have been referred by the Met. Of these referrals, a number have either been involved in local crime or anti-social behaviour, have periodically gone missing, have been identified as at risk of county lines or sexual exploitation, as well as others who have a particular interest in netball.

Beyond The Court was developed due to the lack of sports engagement initiatives targeted at young women across the capital. By providing team sport activity via coaching sessions and matches, Beyond The Court aims to promote the fundamental values of netball both on and beyond the court, to empower participants to engage in a positive outlet and enhance their physical and mental wellbeing, whilst also breaking down barriers between young people and the Police.

The initiative will consist of four netball and three police activity days throughout 2022 that will look to use netball as a vehicle for positive change. The police activity days will consist of a variety of engaging workshops and activities, such as a self-defence workshop and visits to the police dog school.

The programme is taking place at Royal Russell School in Croydon who have provided their facility free of charge. As well as the coaching provided within the four core netball days, there will be more informal ‘turn up and play’ sessions delivered by community coaches, with the ambition that this will be led by local Met Officers once they have obtained the relevant coaching qualifications.

“We want to provide weekly touch points so we keep the participants consistently engaged and provide both informal and more formal pathways into netball for those who want additional provision above and beyond the set days within the programme,” explained Lucy Goodman, England Netball’s Regional Coordinator for London and the South East.

England Netball, with the support of a number of local community organisations such as the County and Regional Netball Associations and local netball clubs, have taken steps to remove all possible barriers to participation for the first cohort of players, including free membership to the governing body, training for coaches and volunteers to ensure inclusive practice, and waiving of club fees for participants who qualify for free school meals.

One of the primary objectives of the programme is for participants to develop a long-lasting relationship with netball and to channel their energies into a positive outlet.

The idea was conceived over a year ago when the Met’s youth engagement team in Croydon received a referral about a young person who happened to be a big netball fan. The police contacted England Netball to seek an early intervention activity she could engage in.

Six months later, a pilot event was delivered with a cohort of girls who had been identified by the police as at risk of child sexual exploitation, anti-social behaviour or were victims of crime and bullying themselves, as well as those who had been referred by their schools or by partner mentoring groups.

After some icebreakers, skills training and activities, they took part in match play and a Q&A with Janet Hills, Chair of the Met Black Police Association, and Olivia Tchine, a player from Vitality Netball Superleague club London Pulse.

After a successful pilot day, the concept was expanded into a year-long initiative that launched in January 2022, supported by London Pulse players Funmi Fadoju and Halimat Adio. In addition to netball activity and police workshops, the participants will get the opportunity to witness elite netball in person and watch a London Pulse match at the Copper Box Arena at the London 2012 Olympic Park.

An ambassador scheme is currently in development for the graduates of the 2022 cohort, which will provide leadership and engagement opportunities for those currently participating in the programme, encouraging them to support a new intake of participants in 2023 and beyond.

Beyond the Court will hopefully be replicated by other London boroughs and beyond, with a view to eventually staging inter-borough, regional and even national competitions. Interest has already been received from constabularies in other parts of England.

Alex Adams, Sergeant for the Youth Engagement Team for Bromley, Croydon and Sutton said: “The idea is to provide these girls with a direction and purpose before they potentially go down the wrong path in life.

“Everything has been set up for them to follow a pathway towards playing the sport long-term. We want to build up their skills and enjoyment for a year and refer them to local clubs in the area to continue their netball journey into adulthood.”

The police will use the data they have about each individual to benchmark their progress. Sergeant Adams explained: “We will measure the project’s success on an individual basis depending on the reason they appeared on the police’s radar in the first place; for example, are they still going missing or have they been arrested? These reviews enable us to produce solid benchmarks.”

Lucy added: “Netball is a fantastic vehicle to build relationships with these young people and we hope the sport can be a permanent fixture in their lives, giving them physical activity, enjoyment and a supportive community to keep them on the right path.”