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Koi Sports – a new approach to funding and tackling reoffending

Funding Touch Rugby training, refereeing and coaching qualifications in prisons to reduce reoffending is just one element to the ambitious plans of Koi Sports – a newly-created Community Interest Company which aims to achieve positive social impact with a self-sustaining approach to funding. 

Launched by David Johnson-Rayner and Josh Rai in November 2018, Koi Sports aims to strengthen grassroots sport through investment in improved safeguarding, financial support for clubs in crisis, and increased participation and inclusion initiatives for minority communities (BAME, LGBTI and GRT (Gypsy, Roma, Traveller)).

Reducing reoffending by creating aspirational employment opportunities in the sports sector is Koi Sports’ principal aim. 

A joint prison project with the England Touch Association (ETA) is one of Koi Sports’ first projects. Together, the organisations have already secured investment for a pilot programme in a prison in the Midlands. They intend to roll out funding of the project to a further nine prisons by the end of 2019. 

Professionally qualified coaches will deliver an initial six-week Touch Rugby course inside the gates, followed by the option for participants, selected on merit, to take internationally recognised coaching and refereeing qualifications. 

Koi Sports and England Touch will then work with those offenders who have proved their commitment to change to establish local league and cup competitions after they are qualified and released. 

The project will also create an aspirational pathway to participation in the 2021 Touch European Cup and/or the 2023 Touch World Cup, and as a result create Ambassador Role Models to positively influence community peer groups. 

PATHWAYS AND ROLE MODELS 

Koi Sports’ two key ‘through-the-gate’ strategies are Sustainable Education and Employment Pathways (SEEP) and Ambassador Role Models (ARM). Both are self-funded initiatives intended to positively impact employer recruitment policies towards ex-members of the prison population. 

“Our partnership with the England Touch Association is an extremely significant one for us,” said Koi Sports Co-Founder David. “It allows us to initiate both our SEEP and ARM strategies by offering individuals aspirational career pathways into the sports sector. 

“These begin with sport participation, progressing to coaching and refereeing qualifications, and for those who apply themselves, can lead to income creation opportunities post-release. With the continued support of the ETA, the project can also affect a change of social circle where required, all of which we hope will lead to, amongst other things, a reduced risk of reoffending.” 

David has an extensive background in sales, and after moving into self-employment, was responsible for forming a four-way prison partnership project which delivered training, personal development and employment pathways for offenders into the rail industry. 

It inspired him to think more deeply about how a 360-degree approach to improving people’s prospects, pre- and post-release, reduces the risk of reoffending – which is estimated to cost the UK taxpayer £15bn a year. Sport, he soon realised, was the golden ticket. 

David said: “Both Josh and I love sport, we understand the social, physical and mental benefits of participation, and are aware that the sports sector is continually looking to encourage minority community engagement. There is an over-representation of minority communities within the prison population (47% BAME and LGBTI) and an under-representation within what is a vast sports sector, so we thought, why not start there? 

“The objective of creating aspirational opportunities and promoting living wage employment in sport, post-release, is where our business model began. 

“When you look at the some of the reasons why people reoffend, it’s apparent that minimal opportunities are afforded to those with a criminal record. This reduces the chances for those affected to actually create a sustainable income by utilising their own varied skillset and past work experience. 

“Although the prison service does a fantastic job in providing personal development opportunities for offenders, I believe that upon release the majority of individuals gain only low paid jobs within business sectors which, given the choice, they wouldn’t necessarily choose to build a career in. When people realise that the wage they are earning isn’t sufficient for them to have a decent standard of living, the easy option is to reoffend. It’s a vicous circle. 

“We want to try to change perceptions among employers about ex-offenders and provide aspirational opportunities which reduces the need for them to reoffend.” 

BUILDING A VIABLE BUSINESS 

Koi Sports’ business contains many strands, with their five-year business plan including the building of a “socially responsible” sports agency, operating under a CIC business model. 

David explains: “In order for Koi Sports and anyone delivering ‘through-the-gate’ initiatives to create sustainable outcomes, we believe it is important to build a commercially viable business on the outside of the prison walls whose profits can then be reinvested to fund their own initiatives. For us, that’s the key to ensuring long-term success. 

“If we all continually chase funding we limit our freedom to operate. If we can create profits to fund initiatives through our own commercial activities, we will remain in charge of our own destiny.” 

Through the creation of commercial profits, big thinking, and effective collaboration, Koi Sports believe they can combat reoffending, increase sports participation amongst minority groups, and help to secure the foundations of grassroots sport in the UK. 

“We welcome Koi Sports on board as members and look forward to helping them connect with our network,” said Alliance of Sport Co-Founder and Chair, James Mapstone. 

For more information visit www.koisports.co.uk

(Main pic: England Touch Chief Operating Officer Gregg Cropper and Koi Sports Director David Johnson-Rayner)

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