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Giving Newcastle’s deprived youth a Sporting Chance

Benwell in the west end of Newcastle is one of the most deprived areas in the UK, with alarming rates of child poverty, crime, social and health problems. In recent years council cuts have forced sports and leisure facilities to close.

However, into this environment in October 2016 came Sporting Chance North East, using sport and education to throw a lifeline to some of the community’s most hard-to-reach young people.

The organisation’s development in the ensuing 18 months has been amazing. The non-profit Community Interest Company structures sport around education, training and social opportunities for children, young people and adults who have found mainstream education difficult to access and have a diverse range of vulnerabilities. Founder and Director Jamie Cairns says they are “bursting at the seams”.

SPorting Chance NEJobes Boxing Gym is the fulcrum for much of the activity, but thanks to £85,000 from Sport England’s community asset fund and £150,000 from the local authority, a purpose-built 700-square-feet community gym is in the pipeline. It will include a boxing gym, dance studio, weights and cardio area, and three classrooms downstairs.

The link between education and sport is central to Sporting Chance North East’s ethos.

Young people arrive via Pupil Referral Units, Youth Offending Teams, the NHS, charities like Barnardo’s or the organisation’s own outreach work. They typically come from troubled families with a varierty of issues from drugs or alcohol misuse, crime or mental healh problems.

Sport is the ‘hook’ that engages them, whether it be boxing, football, multi-skills, personal fitness, golf, rifle range or dodgeball.

Much of the sporting activity is then linked to the educational work in an informal, accessible way – for example, adding up points, making league tables or collecting numbers on weight gain/loss or calories burned. Recently, participants were set the task of designing and building a frisbee golf course, measuring the diameter of the holes and producing a course ‘card’.

“They carry confidence from the gym into the classroom,” says Cairns. “These lads have been told their whole lives they can’t do things or that they’re not good enough. They are used to a cycle of negative behaviour and negative feedback.

rifle“But put them in a sporting environment, such as boxing training, and all they’re doing is trying to better themselves. We emphasise that and bolster them with constant praise and reassurance, and that engenders self-confidence.”

Cairns says outcomes can be almost immediate. One boy stopped smoking inside three weeks, another who consistently arrived visibly high on drugs radically cut down his usage and another had his nocturnal lifestyle of crime turned around. “Whatever their issues, we give them a renewed sense of purpose,” he adds.

He also provides insight into what has been a small but very powerful method of engaging not just the young people but their families.

“As silly as this sounds, we give credit when sometimes none is due!” Cairns explains. “We simply tell the family how well their child is doing with us. They are so used to getting calls from school saying how bad their son is and being told ‘they need to do more’, which typically adds stress to home life and parents’ interaction with us.

“By changing that dynamic and telling them their child is doing well, it builds a positive relationship between us and home life which results in us getting more support from the family – and the young person getting kicked out of bed! It also builds a more positive relationship between parent and son, which obviously makes home life better too.”

Each individual receives a personalised programme and outcomes vary between the under-16 and post-16 programmes. They have taken 90 over-16s and 10 individuals aged 13-16 in the first 18 months, with outcomes including increased health and wellbeing, reduction in anti-social behaviour and crime, acquiring of functional skills and qualifications, volunteering, work placements with partners (including a disabilities charity), reintegration into mainstream education or college, apprenticeships, further learning and employment.

Sporting Chance North East are particularly proud of their impact with the “very challenging and complex” U16s group. All have a history of non-attendance at school, social exclusion, deprivation and complex lives, but attendance among this group is 100%.

The grandmother of one boy said:

“Robert and I don’t fight any more. It’s as if a switch has been flicked. He even helps out around the house.”

A mother commented:

“He’s finally coming home with a smile on his face! If Kieran didn’t want to go, he wouldn’t, so the fact he’s getting up on a morning and going is unbelievable.”

Lee Moore, Director and Volunteer Mentor, comments: “It is easy for these young people to fall through the system. However, they don’t with us.”

Cairns concludes: “This community is basically on its knees, but that is one of the reasons we’ve been able to be so successful. Our work intends to help those who deserve the opportunities to overcome their life experiences and unlock their potential via sport.”

The Alliance of Sport would like to thank Sporting Chance North East for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.