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Street Soccer Scotland helping offenders set new goals

Street Soccer Scotland has been using football to engage with hard-to-reach individuals for nine years – now a pilot project in four prisons is set to deepen their impact. 

The social enterprise was founded by Chief Executive David Duke MBE. A former player in the Homeless World Cup, in 2004, he subsequently coached the Scotland team to victory in the event in 2007. 

Witnessing football’s potential impact on ex-offenders, long-term unemployed, homeless people and those with mental health issues, he wanted to establish provision of football activity on a more regular basis.  

Therefore, in 2009 he set up Street Soccer Scotland sessions in Edinburgh and Glasgow. They now extend to Greenock, Paisley, Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen. 

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The aim in the first instance is simply to tackle social exclusion and build players’ confidence, self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Andy Hook, Head of Programmes, tells the Alliance of Sport: “When people arrive, we don’t ask questions – what are your issues? why are you here? – we just let them play football and build their trust and confidence in what we do. 

“Through football we gradually build a relationship, so they can explain to us what situation they are in. It’s at that point we can signpost them to other organisations for help. We find that’s very beneficial. 

“They get so much confidence with us that enables them to be ready to deal with the issues that got them into that situation in the first place. Sometimes, if they go to a homeless charity, for example, they feel pigeonholed. With us, they’re just a player.” 

Street Soccer Scotland run drop-in sessions across the country that are free and open to all, a separate women’s programme, a Street Soccer FC programme for 10-16-year-olds in areas of deprivation and an initiative called Football Works, which combines football with work skills, training, personal development and coaching, leading to tangible outcomes such as SQAs (Scottish Qualification Awards). 

It was this latter initiative that kindled the idea of delivering behind prison walls. Football is used as the basis for building communication and writing skills in the classroom in the morning session. Then structuring and delivering coaching sessions to their peers form the afternoon work.

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Football Works was first delivered with a group of 12 offenders in Addiewell Prison in West Lothian in 2014. Eleven completed the course and earned SQAs in ‘Communications` and `Working With Others’. 

“It was found to be really beneficial for the guys as an intervention tool before release. It had a positive impact on everyone who enrolled,” reflects Hook. “It meant they had a legitimate qualification when they came out, which was a platform for further education and development.” 

Work expanded into a six-week programme in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. Two offenders got involved in Street Soccer Scotland’s programmes after leaving prison. “By working in prison, the guys get to know our faces and understand what we’re all about. It can then build a really positive pathway for them on release,” says Hook. 

In recent weeks delivery has begun with 13 inmates in HMP Edinburgh and a programme is being devised for female offenders there too. They also deliver at HMP Castle Huntly near Dundee. Because it is an open prison, Street Soccer Scotland is able to bring inmates out to integrate with players from their own community programmes in the city, something Hook says has generated “a lot of positive feeling”. Other pilots have been delivered in Young Offenders’ Institutes. 

Hook explains: “We go in not as teachers or law enforcers, but as coaches who can get messages across about the transferable skills you get from playing football. They in turn allow them to build up confidence and communication skills, which are a platform for all sorts of further development.”

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One offender’s experience inside HMP Barlinnie encapsulates the project’s impact. He had been inside for 18 years and initially lacked the confidence to take part, feeling he was not a good enough footballer. After some persuasion he turned up for week three. Hook recalls: “During a game on the last day he stood next to me and said ‘This has been tremendous for me. I’m looking forward to using all these life skills with my grandkids when I get out. It’s something I’ve never had the opportunity to learn before.’ It showed he was feeling much more confident that he could do something positive after getting out.” 

The link between activities inside prison and the community programmes is vital. It ensures that any impact built up behind the gate is not lost when offenders are released, as they have something familiar and positive to engage with. 

For some, that could extend beyond just continued participation. Subject to checks, some go on to volunteer as coaches or even become employees (five of Street Soccer Scotland’s 13 staff have come through the programme as service users). 

One coach, Sarah, recently told a group of inmates of her background as an addict for 14 years. After rehab she played in Scotland’s Homeless World Cup team and now works full-time for Street Soccer Scotland. Hook concludes: “She told them how powerful football had been in changing her life. She’s a perfect role model for what anyone on our programmes can achieve.” 

Service users’ views

“What I have learned on this course is that I can transfer the skills on the pitch to everyday life. Rab and Andy were brilliant – top men.” – Colin, HMP Barlinnie

Twitter Logo“This is by far the most enjoyable course I’ve done in the jail and definitely shows you there is a realistic way to change.” Robert, HMP Addiewell

“The things I am learning here will help me when working with my kids when I get released” – Barry, HMP Barlinnie

For more information go to www.streetsoccerscotland.org

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