How Charlton Athletic use sport to make a positive difference
It is impossible to overestimate the esteem in which the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) is held in its community of South-East London.
CACT was founded as Charlton Athletic’s community scheme by a single member of staff in 1992 to reconnect with local supporters, after the club had spent seven and a half years ground-sharing with Crystal Palace and West Ham.
It is now so firmly embedded within its patch of Greenwich, Bexley and Kent that it reaches 10,000 people from the ages of three to 99+ every week, has 84 full-time staff plus 150 part-time coaches, and is the first community football trust to be commissioned by a local council to deliver its Youth Service provision.
Sport (principally football) acts as the ‘vehicle’ for improving the lives of local people in diverse ways. What unites all of CACT’s programmes is that they are all designed to meet highlighted areas of local need, ranging from physical inactivity, drugs and alcohol, mental health, education, employment, equality and diversity, disability, street violence or crime.
“We’ve grown into a one-stop shop which people come to as a trusted provider,” says CACT’s Head of Football and Sports Development, Sean Daly.
Their range of programmes is huge. They deliver breakfast, lunchtime, after-school clubs and PE lessons in 100 schools a week, with workshops on issues such as obesity, behaviour, mental health and the consequences of knife crime. There is a football project aimed at integrating faiths and ethnicities, post-16 football academies, a social club for the elderly, literacy and numeracy programmes, a Down’s syndrome squad and much more.
Crime is a focus of much of CACT’s activity. They work alongside youth offending teams, probation services and inside HM Prison Belmarsh to mentor offenders and build their skillsets, qualifications and employability. Some are eventually taken on to CACT’s staff as coaches.
Activities are highly targeted, such as the ‘Kickz’ sessions. After being signposted by the police, Youth Offending Teams and local authorities to local ‘hot spots’ for crime, gang activity and anti-social behaviour, the team will move in and start regular coaching sessions, matches and tournaments for 11-21-year-olds, deliberately focusing on those deemed most at risk.
“We will typically overload those initial sessions with coaches in order to get the young people to start talking to us,” explains Daly. “We find out the types of activities they want to do and we keep it informal. The minute you start making it too structured, you start to lose a few from the group.
“Over the first few weeks we gradually start to gain their trust. Perhaps in week six we might do a workshop with them on knife crime and maybe two weeks later we’ll add in some information on drugs awareness. It’s about dropping in those key messages here and there.
“Just having an opportunity to talk to a trusted adult in a safe and positive environment is a tremendous source of support for many of them.
“We then identify people on that programme who might want to go through their FA Level 1 coaching badge, who can then join us on the programme as a paid young leader. They’re then set on a progressive pathway of training and employment.”
CACT’s mentoring programme started in the Royal Borough of Greenwich in 2011 when CACT became the first football community trust to appoint a Crime Reduction Team. It grew to encompass Bexley, Dartford and Gravesham, and was extended to include Thanet in 2015.
The Thanet programme serves 10 to 24-year-olds who are at risk of becoming involved in crime or already in the criminal justice system. Working with Kent Police, it builds understanding of the consequences of crime and helps steer young people away from negative behaviour.
It is a diversionary initiative which uses one-on-one sessions tailored to the needs of each individual to reduce offending and help people into education, employment or training. The scheme is supported by the Home Office, Children in Need, the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust and the Charles Hayward Foundation.
Paul Robinson, CACT’s Kent Social Inclusion Officer, said: “The Thanet mentoring service has been a key part of our crime prevention strategy in East Kent since it was launched three years ago. We specifically work with young people who may otherwise be on the periphery of crime and those who have already entered the criminal justice system.”
Last year, CACT mentored 250 people in Royal Greenwich, Bexley and Thanet, 60% of whom had been involved in criminal activity of some sort.
Street Violence Ruins Lives was set up by the Knox family after their son Rob, a big Charlton Athletic fan, was stabbed 10 years ago.
Rob’s father Colin Knox said: “Our aims with the Rob Knox Foundation were to challenge knife crime, anti-social behaviour and support people in the arts. We also challenged government laws and policies surrounding those that were caught carrying a knife.
“Soon after Rob was killed we were approached by Charlton Athletic Community Trust, with the view of The Rob Knox Foundation becoming members of their steering committee. At The Foundation we are proud that we have worked alongside CACT in what will be our ninth year. We are also proud to be working with other strategic partners and agencies that go to make up the committee.”
CACT Ambassador Steve Sutherland said: “Street Violence Ruins Lives couldn’t possibly have started if we didn’t have the Knox family on board. But they were awesome. They supported the concept right from the outset. This really is the forerunner of crime reduction programmes in sport.”
CACT’s collaborative mental health work provision Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and Kent and Medway NHS Trust has grown significantly over recent years. “When you combine this work with our wider CACT provision it becomes a powerful service to many members of the community who are facing different challenges,” commented Carl Krauhaus, Head of Early Help and Prevention.
Funding for all CACT programmes comes from a variety of sources, including the Premier League (for Kickz), Sport England, Children in Need, Comic Relief, Greenwich council, housing associations, schools and MOPAC (the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime).
As the offering is so diverse, typical outcomes also vary greatly. They are best summed up as meeting community needs and helping young people achieve their potential. That can be through direct engagement, personal development, qualifications or employment on a CACT project, or indirectly through a huge network of partners to whom CACT can refer them, such as the National Citizen Service, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards scheme, The Prince’s Trust or external traineeships, apprenticeships, courses and jobs.
CACT is clearly deeply embedded in the local area, with a dense web of local partnerships and relationships to help make sure no-one is allowed to fall through the cracks. Daly concludes: “It’s about using the power of the Charlton Athletic badge and sport to make a positive difference to this community in whatever ways we can.”
The Alliance of Sport would like to thank Charlton Athletic Community Trust for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.