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Public Health England praises Alliance’s “real impact”

basket ball game player portraitThe Alliance of Sport is opening up massive opportunities to make a lasting difference by enabling young people’s personal developmentimproving their physical and mental health – and ultimately helping to fight crime. 

That is the view of Jackie Roberts, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Public Health England, West Midlands. She has already seen several exciting projects kickstarted as a direct result of how the Alliance of Sport provides a platform to allow stakeholders to share learning, information, contacts and ideas.

The Alliance of Sport has a growing membership base, all of whom share a belief in using the power of sport to prevent offending and rehabilitate offenders. Together, the potential to achieve change is huge and Jackie has already seen the Alliance’s Positive Action Groups bring about tangible results.

“The reason I love the Alliance of Sport so much is that it’s full of inspirational people working across different fields with a shared vision, who come together and make a difference,” commented Jackie.

“I always go away feeling that the work being done in all those different lines has a real impact in terms of changing things for young people and for those in prisons.”

There are strong overlaps between Public Health England’s remit of building the nation’s physical and mental wellbeing, and the Alliance of Sport’s aims of using sport as a tool to build resilience, confidence and self-esteem in society’s most complex and challenging people.

It’s that sort of cross-pollination of contacts and expertise that directly resulted in the Alliance of Sport facilitating a collaborative project in Birmingham between West Midlands Fire Service, Birmingham Sport and SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) Pathfinders. The Alliance helped the project’s Strategic Lead Rob McCabe access funding to use sport in tackling the social, emotional and mental health of families and their children.

Another example of developing work through collaboration across the sector is a project to set up sport academies for looked-after children inside HMP/YOI Werrington in Staffordshire. University of Gloucestershire Professor Andrew Parker – a key member of the Alliance of Sport’s Positive Action Groups – is supporting this by recording evidence of its impact. Linked with research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), this will result in a consistent approach to using sport to reduce offending amongst children brought up in care.

IMG_0020Jackie also highlights the impact of the Alliance of Sport’s Positive Action Group on gangs and youth violence, which has launched a project to train prison staff in positive ways of engaging young people in custody in order to challenge gang-related violence.

Jackie picks out a round-table discussion with Dr Phillip Lee, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, as another Alliance of Sport highlight. “That was a great opportunity for us to highlight the benefits of sport in the criminal justice system. It helped draw attention to women’s differing needs in relation to sport and the opportunities available to offer a range of physical activity options tailored to women,” she reflects.

Jackie (pictured right) first got involved with the Alliance of Sport after meeting co-founders James Mapstone and Justin Coleman at HMP Oakwood, where they were co-ordinating a 2nd Chance project using sport to engage with offenders and give them access to education, training and mentoring.

“I’d visited a lot of prisons and had never seen an environment like that before,” says Jackie. “They were reaching out to people in custody the same way that a training department would reach out to its staff.

“I saw Justin working with prisoners in the gym and their relationship was based on equality and mutual respect. It was great to see people in prison with that level of confidence. There are many people in prisons with low self-esteem who feel they have limited choices. In observing the activities and engagement levels you could see there was a hard work ethic but it was rooted in a firm level of trust. It was great to see it working in the prison environment.

“The exercises, ice-breakers, interaction with prisoners’ families, the staff-prisoner relationship, the innovation around social enterprise; I had never seen anything as dynamic as that before in any setting.”

From that moment on, Jackie was fully supportive of the 2nd Chance Group and their then-nascent idea of forming the Alliance of Sport. And the feeling is mutual.

“I am delighted that Public Health England is on board with us,” says the Alliance of Sport co-founder and Chair, James Mapstone. “Its input is invaluable to the our success.”

He adds: “Moving forwards, we will be collaborating on a range of initiatives which will enhance the environment and the health and wellbeing of people in the criminal justice system.”

Jackie concludes: “The Alliance of Sport works because it’s all based on networks and relationships, shared enthusiasm, vision and shared resources.

“People often talk about adopting a model where you connect different stakeholders for delivery of services, but the difference with the Alliance of Sport is it actually connects properly with people who are accessing those services, whether they be in custody or young people accessing youth work through sport.

“The people they provide services for are actually part of the chain of communication. Nowhere else have I seen a more robust example of truly engaging with those most in need.”