Positive thinking: how sport is changing young lives in Gwent
Positive Futures Gwent has every ingredient that goes into a successful Sport for Development project.
For the last 15 years, they have made a real impact on crime and young people’s behaviour in the most disadvantaged areas of south-east Wales by harnessing the inherent potential in local communities and the power of sport.
Their programmes give at-risk young people vital one-to-one support where it’s needed, offering them volunteering and personal development opportunities, the chance to earn qualifications and learn life skills, and providing access to an array of sports from football and rugby to dance, boxing, climbing, mountain biking and skateboarding.
Some participants are referred following multi-agency meetings involving schools, social services and youth offending teams. They assess each young person’s needs and decide on the most effective package of support. Others attend sessions in their own local areas at sports halls and community centres.
Lucy Donovan, Positive Futures’ Senior Development Officer, has been on board since the very beginning. She’s in no doubt about what elements make their model so effective.
“Our success comes from having the right people delivering the sessions,” she states. “When young people come in, the approach they receive from the staff is consistent and youth-friendly. It is a ‘youth worker approach’.
“Many of these young people can’t cope in group scenarios or have no positive male role model in their lives. One-to-one support from an older person, who has a passion for sport, has a chilled-out approach and can encourage them to get some work done then go out and play sport; that’s all so valuable.
“Not everyone has the tools or personality to work with disaffected and challenging young people whose home lives are manic. But our consistent approach and the holistic package of support we provide tends to work. The young people know they’re here to do some work but the carrot of sport, or other activities such as cooking, are incentives that keep them engaged and busy.”
Started in Newport in 2002 with Home Office funding, the project is now funded mainly by the local Police Crime Commissioner and Sport Wales. In 2014/15 it extended across the county of Gwent into Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Monmouth.
The project’s success, and Donovan’s years of frontline experience, make her more than qualified to advise others in the Sport for Development sector who may be launching or running similar local schemes.
“The behaviour change has got to come from within these estates and communities,” she states. “Young people who have joined the programme, volunteered, got their qualifications, and progressed to be delivery staff are very often the ones who make the most impact.
“When I used to bring in external ‘club’ type coaches it would sometimes end in carnage. They just couldn’t deal with the behaviour. You need people with ‘youth work’ experience who can dig in, have a go and not be put off by kids who don’t necessarily listen first time.
“Once I started training up local people and parents to deliver sessions, it was amazing. The kids were in awe of them. If the coach lives down their street, the engagement levels are totally different. They tend to inspire a ‘If he can do it, I can do it!’ attitude.”
Consistency is also massive, says Donovan, as well as prioritising quality over quantity.
“If you say you’re going to be there at a certain time on a Friday night, then be there,” she advises. “These kids need consistent relationships in their lives.
“Don’t just focus on the number of engagements, either. Behaviour change comes from the right package of support; local role models, volunteering and education opportunities and an attractive sport offer. I don’t care if someone puts on four sessions as opposed to ten; it’s about those four sessions having the biggest possible impact.”
One person who can vouch for that impact is 17-year-old Rhys from Caerphilly. He was referred to Positive Futures aged 13 after disruptive behaviour in school.
“I’d go a few days a week and I’d play football, go bike riding and have the chance to think about things and do my school work there. I found it a lot more helpful as I hated school. Even though I was learning, I didn’t think of Positive Futures as school and I enjoyed it,” he remembers.
Unfortunately, Rhys broke the law at 15 and was sent to a Young Offenders’ Institute for a year. Positive Futures staff kept in contact and visited him during his sentence.
“Fair play, they were there for me as soon as I came out of the gates and they have been there for me ever since,” he reflects.
“They gave me a second chance when no one else would and said that I would be a really good role model if I sorted my life out, which I have done. I managed to get a job with them and I’m now helping out kids who are going downhill and showing them that there’s another way.
“Positive Futures have kept on pushing me forward to achieve better things. I definitely wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for them and I’d probably be out walking the streets and getting up to no good.”
Rhys has recently gained full-time employment at a local business in Caerphilly with references supplied by the Positive Futures staff. He is also working in his spare time for the Positive Futures team.
The Alliance of Sport would like to thank Positive Futures Gwent for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.