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Futsal is latest chapter in Pete’s pioneering prison programme

Training offenders to be Football Association futsal Level 1 coaches is just the latest of Pete Bell’s pioneering initiatives using sport to improve the prospects of people in prison. 

Pete has rebuilt his own life through football after a spell inside in 1992 and his Step Out Stay Out football-based mentoring programme is now helping hundreds of men and women change their mindset and behaviour, improving their chances of living a crime-free life upon release from jail. 

With support from the FA’s head of coaching, Les Howie, Pete undertook his FA Level 1 and Level 2 futsal badges, plus his tutor training qualification, to become a coach educator in the sport. 

“My idea is to develop the coaches in prisons so they can coach themselves and have inter-wing futsal competitions, which are great for fitness, camaraderie and mental health,” says Pete. “They could then, on release, become FA futsal Level 1 coaches. It gives them an opportunity to get on that employment ladder as a coach.” 

Pete has been delivering his Step Out Stay Out programme in seven prisons for over a year. His sessions include an adapted version of the FA’s junior football leaders course, educating them in the practical and theoretical aspects of running football activity, refereeing and coaching. 

He uses football and his own story of successful rehabilitation to engage and mentor the inmates, getting them to open up about their own struggles and potentially break the damaging cycle of reoffending. 

sport in prison

“The programme gives them precious time out from their normal prison routine to talk with their peers, upskill themselves and gain confidence,” says Pete. 

“I firstly tell them my story, try to earn their trust and get into their mindset. They talk about their regrets and downfalls, their barriers to staying out of prison, and I get them to focus on what they want in the future.” 

Two poignant moments stand out for Pete. The first came while he was coaching in HMP Lincoln – the same jail where he was incarcerated 27 years ago – when he stood outside his old cell. The second was when he was given keys at HMP Stocken, the sign that he had progressed from inmate to trusted member of staff. 

“That was a really proud moment,” he reflects. “I’m walking through doors with inmates, just like I did all those years ago, but this time I’m the one unlocking them. To know I’d come full circle was slightly surreal.” 

As well as his work in prisons, Pete has used football as a vehicle for crime prevention and community cohesion in his home city of Nottingham. His Jumpers 4 Goalposts event in May saw him bring together a wealth of local stakeholders to engage at-risk young people on the troubled Clifton housing estate. 

The event was supported by, among many others, SERCO and Darren Davis, the sport and leisure tutor at HMP Lowdham Grange (pictured below). Pete is soon to host futsal and sports leadership courses at the jail.

Along his journey, Pete has received extensive support from the FA and Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice, who have advocated and promoted his work, and connected him with key contacts. 

It can occasionally be a tough and lonely experience trying to drive and expand this work on my own, so to have the backing of the Alliance of Sport is very reassuring and motivating,” Pete says. “I cannot state enough how much help I’ve been given and how much it means to me.” 

Praise for Bell’s work has come from ex-Justice Minister Edward Argar, who said: “I pay tribute to our physical education officers and coaches like Pete Bell from sports clubs and community organisations, who deliver a range of programmes for young people in custody every day.  

Sport and physical activity can help to teach offenders self-discipline, teamwork and leadership – all vital skills to prepare them for a successful and crimefree life on release.” 

Pete’s work has included visits to Drake Hall, a female prison in Staffordshire, and he is keen to expand upon that and impact upon as large and diverse a population as possible.  

“The support I’ve received along the way has been absolutely invaluable,” he says. “I know how powerful the combination of my story, football, education and mentoring can be, and I look forward to helping many others on their journey to rehabilitation in the future.” 

Read more about Pete Bell’s pioneering work:

Pete Bell’s blog: what the UK can learn from the Dutch approach to sport and rehabilitation

Pete Bell shows how football in prisons can break the cycle of reoffending

Pete Bell: football saved my life, now I want it to save others’ lives too

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