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Levelling the Playing Field celebrates young people’s achievements at National Awards

Young people, role models, leaders and dignitaries were united in celebration at Saturday’s 2023 Levelling the Playing Field National Awards at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham.

The Awards highlighted the incredible impact made by people and partner organisations within the Levelling the Playing Field (LtPF) network, which spans London, the West Midlands, South Yorkshire and Gwent.

Managed by the Alliance of Sport and the Youth Justice Board and funded by the London Marathon Foundation, LtPF uses the power of sport and physical activity to engage ethnically diverse children and prevent and divert them from entering the Criminal Justice System.

Last Saturday’s Awards (15 July) were attended by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, England’s Commonwealth Games-winning netball captain Ama Agbeze, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, Keith Fraser, and Joe Thompson, Head of Funding at the London Marathon Foundation.

The event at the prestigious 2022 Commonwealth Games venue included a variety of fun sports sessions including track and field delivered by the esteemed Tony Hadley from Birchfield Harriers, Blaze Pad and kabaddi by coaches and young people from LtPF delivery partners Wolverhampton Wrestling Club.

Firstly, young people who had won LtPF’s four respective regional ‘Young Person of the Year’ and ‘Cohort of the Year’ awards were presented with medallions to highlight their achievements.

The ‘Role Model of the Year’ award was given to two joint winners:

· Reahana Gordon, Fight 4 Change (London)

· Imran Ali, Saalik Youth Project (South Yorkshire)

· Runners-up: Reggie Al-Haddi, NYCA (Gwent), Neeco Williams, InPower Academy (West Mids)

Reahana said: “I wasn’t expecting to win but it’s nice to have the work I do recognised and have people backing me. I work hard for the kids, but it’s not about me and what I am doing, it’s about providing that space and opportunity for the children.”

Imran said: “It’s fantastic to win, especially in the category of role model as it’s a big responsibility. The young people look up to you, so I need to look after what I do, what I say and refine my character. Being a role model is also about what you say meaning a lot to them. Your attitude, behaviour and words are projected onto these young people.”

The ‘Organisation of the Year’ prize went to LtPF’s specialist partners in Birmingham who use football, community role models and education and employment opportunities to deter young people from criminality…

· Sporting Elite CIC (West Mids)

· Runners-up: The Gap Wales (Gwent), Reach Up Youth (South Yorks), Urban Yogis (London)

Seb Hamilton, Chair of Sporting Elite CIC, said: “It’s great for us to know that the work we are doing behind the scenes is appreciated. Through Levelling the Playing Field, we’ve been able to set up volunteering programmes where we are looking at the employability side for young people. It’s great we are keeping young people off the streets, but now we are looking at the next phase around volunteering and employability which I think is going to be a great help for them.”

The ‘Partnership of the Year’ project went to the incomparable multi-agency Newport partnership – the tight circle of organisations in the city who have come together to support local ethnically diverse children, giving them ‘safe places and safe faces’ to enjoy sport on their own doorstep and divert them from negative influences on the streets.

· Newport, multi-agency partnership (Gwent)

· Runners-up: Coventry Youth Partnership (West Mids), Street Soccer London and Palace for Life Foundation (London), Reach Up Youth and Saalik Youth Project (South Yorks)

Martine Smith, Community Focused Manager at Maindee Primary School (pictured above), said: “It’s fantastic recognition for the work we are doing, collectively, in Newport. We’ve worked hard over the last couple of years to develop a friendship and partnership. For the young people, it shows them that being together, working together, that partnership actually benefits them and it’s important for them to see that this works.”

Ama Agbeze, who claimed an unforgettable gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and has a degree in law, said: “These Awards are a great amalgamation of my personal interests; young people, law, justice and sport. It’s great that these young people have been selected from their regions, have been able to travel to the Alexander Stadium, all because of sport. I’ve loved celebrating their achievements with them, too.

“Sport is great because it channels people into different things. People always say that we need to get young people off the streets, but actually young people just want something to do and somewhere to go. They are meeting new people, making friends and learning new skills. Sport is brilliant at diverting young people in the direction of organisations or activities that are great for them and they then don’t realise that they aren’t on the streets, because instead they are doing something they love.”

Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board (pictured above with Joe Thompson and award winner Hilmee Mohamed), added: “Levelling the Playing Field is a tool for promoting positive outcomes for young people. This programme isn’t about stopping bad behaviour, it’s about trying to raise children’s aspirations, about having more difficult conversations and broadening young people’s perspectives.

“Being at the Alexander Stadium for the National Awards has been fantastic, mainly to recognise the young people and their achievements, and the hope that the project has given them.”