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In2Sport course has “incredible” impact for men on probation

A sport and fitness course for prison leavers is achieving “quite incredible” impact with its first cohort of men currently on probation.

The In2Sport pilot project at South Gloucestershire and Stroud College in Bristol is working with seven men towards achieving fitness qualifications that will allow them to pursue careers in personal training, fitness, coaching or mentoring. A second group of 10 is due to start in late February.

Staff at the college have teamed up with Bristol CFO Activity Hub who find ways to help those on licence or community orders re-integrate into their communities. The Alliance of Sport also provided contacts and expertise to help get the course started, with our adviser Dr Haydn Morgan sharing his research into good practice in partnerships between sport and criminal justice.

The In2Sport programme includes a mixture of theory and practical delivery of sport sessions, with learners making use of the college’s excellent on-site sport facilities. They also have the college’s careers provision at their disposal. The local authority’s leisure provider Circadian have offered placement and work experience opportunities.

“In terms of the changes we’ve seen them make already, it has been quite incredible,” said South Gloucestershire and Stroud College’s Senior Sport Development Officer, Ali Chodkiewicz.

“Some of the guys have come through alcohol and drug rehabilitation organisations and they have not relapsed in their progress. One of them has just got his own flat. Two are doing work experience with the college in their own time. The course has given them structure and something to engage them positively. It has helped them on a personal and professional level. It really has been powerful.”

Ali delivers the course alongside the college’s Adult Education Lead, Megan Knowelden, and Sport Lecturers, Arthur Furness and Emma Tustin. None had previous experience of working with ex-prison residents, but they quickly learned that an informal engagement process worked best.

Megan said: “It probably took five or six attempts to get them to come along, but when we did meet them, we went for a walk with them individually, showed them our sports facilities and they quickly understood they wouldn’t just be sat in a boring classroom.

“We had a game of five-a-side to begin with and built a rapport. They now all turn up together, text each other and read up on the subject in their own time. A lot of these guys haven’t reached a high level of education before, so we have ignited that flame for learning.

“No-one is making them come. It’s their choice. Sport has been that perfect way of capturing their interest. We’ve got to know all about their lives and what they are doing on a weekly basis. If we don’t hear from them, we ring them. We build trust simply by taking an interest in them as an individual and how we can help them to move forward.”

Arthur, the college’s Sport Lecturer, gives an insight into the day-to-day content of the programme: “We’ve done football, basketball, tchoukball and personal training sessions in the gym. After an hour of theory they will go straight out and deliver that practically.

“We don’t stand in front of them and teach in the old-fashioned sense. They have responded really well to that. There is a real willingness to learn. I think the sport element to it is invaluable to that engagement.”

Megan added: “We are over the moon to see them presenting themselves better, turning up with prepared meals and huge changes in their communication and confidence. We are now looking forward to our second cohort and expanding what we can offer in future.”

Take a look at BBC News’ recent visit to the college to speak to the learners here.