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How sport is improving lives and tackling crime in the West Midlands

One of the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime’s most important functions is to celebrate the success of sport projects that are having an impact on crime. 

The Sport West Midlands Project is one such example that is well worth sharing across the sector. By harnessing the power of sport, they are making communities safer and achieving tangible outcomes for young people.

What is the SWMP? 

The three-year project saw 8,000 young people from areas of need across the region take part in programmes that included football, basketball, dance, Zumba and many more. Using sport as an engagement tool, the aim was to reduce anti-social behaviour and build a bridge between the police and marginalised young people. 

The project was the brainchild of Superintendent Keith Fraser from West Midlands Police. It was funded by Sport England, managed by Sport Birmingham, CSW Sport, Active Black Country and local County Sports Partnerships, and delivered by over a dozen partners across Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country.

Case studies 

One of those delivery partners was the Positive Youth Foundation in Coventry, a social enterprise delivering youth and community services through education, mentoring and targeted provision.

Just one of the young people they worked with was 15-yar-old Batoul Erjf, who attended sessions with her three brothers after they arrived as refugees from Syria in April 2016.

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The Positive Youth Foundation helped them learn English, integrate, develop confidence and even complete their Level 1 Sports Leaders Award. They have now started volunteering on other projects and are embarking on a four-day residential to the Isle of Wight with 30 young people from across Coventry.

“I am fearless! I just want to make new friends and have fun,” reflected Batoul. (Read more about the remarkable Erjf family here.) 

Alison O’Connell from Sport Birmingham commented: “Rashid [Bhayat, Positive Youth Foundation CEO] and the guys in Coventry are absolutely awesome. The way they nurture and empower their young people to take part, not just as participants but volunteering and being part of the workforce, is second to none.” 

Alison also highlights the work of another SWMP project run by the Safe Haven team in east Birmingham, where local police officers have used football and other activities to engage with “the toughest kids” in Sparkbrook and Sparkhill. “The way they work is absolutely brilliant; they have done an outstanding job,” reflects Alison. (Read more about their work here). 

Lessons learned 

Recording and evidencing the project’s impact was an area Alison admits she would have done differently in retrospect.

“When I first became involved in this project it was very driven by outputs such as attendances, throughputs and number-crunching,” she reflects. “We now realise the qualitative data – how young people’s lives have been affected by this project – is much more important. These so-called ‘soft outcomes’ are harder to capture, but they are the strongest outcomes for that young person. 

“It is also crucial you identify the right delivery networks that understand and are trusted by the local community. This allowed better targeting and meant the community responded in a positive way, engendering a stronger sense of pride, belonging and trust.” 

Sport Birmingham will now put these lesson into practice in their upcoming MAD (Make A Difference) Project. Working with marginalised young people aged 11-18, they will deliver sport and music alongside a mentoring programme, working towards connecting them with education and employment opportunities. 

Each young person’s journey will be captured from day one to provide more robust evidence of the project’s impact, which will then be a solid foundation for encouraging further investment and inform future learning. 

Celebrating success 

The three-year project ended this summer with a special awards night at Edgbaston cricket ground to celebrate the achievements of the young people, volunteers and organisations who made it all happen. 

Outcomes 

Although the results aren’t yet compiled, it’s already clear that young people have benefited hugely, with many progressing to training courses, qualifications, volunteering roles and traineeships; and links set up with college courses and help with CV writing. 

swmp awards

“The evidence coming in reflects a real positive impact on young people’s lives,” commented project founder Superintendent Fraser. 

“This has been a ground-breaking opportunity for West Midlands Police to partner with Sport England to use the power of sport and physical activity to produce more positive outcomes for society and prevent crime and anti-social behaviour. 

“In my view targeted sport/activity-based preventative interventions, based on intelligence and local need, are currently under-utilised. It is fantastic to see the potential that this kind of partnership could bring to communities. 

“The benefits for communities and policing to prevent issues, rather than deal with outcomes, are evident in this partnership. Thanks to all who support it but most importantly thanks to the young people, the volunteers and the communities who got involved to help turn young people’s lives around.” 

The NASDC’s view 

Justin Coleman, Director of Operations and Secretariat: 

“I first came across the Sport West Midlands police project when working in HMP Oakwood in Featherstone in 2014. Many of the men inside the establishment who received training through the 2nd Chance Sports Academies and bespoke Level 3 Mentoring courses assisted the police with engaging young people from the community. 

“It was a project that not only prevented offending with young people, it helped rehabilitate men inside, repair family connections and improve collaboration between the prison and community. To see its continued growth and success for young people in the community proves it is a needed service for the communities it serves. 

“To be working with Sport Birmingham, sport and statutory organisations on such a proactive and wide portfolio of Sport for Development programmes, I am motivated within a consistent, vibrant and worthwhile network. With much more in the planning stages, it would seem the West Midlands is becoming a leading example of Sport for Development in the UK.” 

What’s next? 

Alison from Sport Birmingham is set to share her wisdom and take an active role in the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime, contributing to our Positive Action Groups on Early Intervention and Prevention as well as Gangs, Violence and Extremism. 

The Alliance of Sport would like to thank the Sport West Midlands Project for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Youth Justice.

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