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Alliance of Sport supports sport initiatives in youth custody

The Alliance of Sport has secured funding for three innovative sport-based initiatives in youth custody that form part of the Levelling the Playing Field project.

Together with prison education providers Novus, we have helped forge partnerships with Sports Connect, Sharks Community Trust and Climb Unity. They will provide sport and physical activity opportunities in custody and, crucially, continue and expand those opportunities to support individuals after their release into the community.

The Alliance of Sport secured funding from Sport England’s Tackling Inequalities Fund for the initiatives in HMPYOI Cookham Wood and HMPYOI Werrington, and facilitated the partnership between Climb Unity and HMPYOI Wetherby which is funded by the British Mountaineering Council.

Excitingly, Sports Connect’s activity in Cookham Wood in Kent will be led by former GB Olympic sprinter Marilyn Okoro (pictured above). “I am delighted to be involved in the Levelling the Playing Field partnership,” she said. “I believe sport has a power to change lives – it certainly has mine… I have a heart to encourage and motivate those who face adversity, helping them to unlock the ‘champion mindset’ it takes to bounce back in life and smash their goals! The fact I can do this using sport is simply a bonus!” 

Climb Unity will introduce young people to climbing in HMYOI Wetherby in West Yorkshire, while Sharks Community Trust will deliver rugby and other sporting opportunities inside HMPYOI Werrington in Staffordshire. There is potential for expansion into further secure settings.

Each partner will offer coaching and support that is learner-centred (i.e. based on young people’s feedback on the types of sport and activities they want to take part in). On release, young people will then be linked up with Levelling the Playing Field sports sessions in their area and/or be able to attend sessions run by the same trusted sport providers externally that they worked with whilst in custody.

The through-the-gate support will play an important part in young people’s resettlement back into the community, giving them access to sport and physical activity, mentoring support, helping to divert them from negative peer influences and enabling them to form (or continue) relationships with trusted adult role models.

As well as its many benefits for young people, the partnership has already had a positive impact on the partners themselves.

“The project has fostered collaboration between education, gym and healthcare departments of the different secure establishments who are involved,” said Novus Sport and Enrichment Coordinator, James Thomas. “They have all started sharing best practice and discussing what works and what doesn’t, which is extremely positive.

“The community links provided by Levelling the Playing Field across the country are amazing for us. Setting up community resettlement plans is often difficult when young people are leaving one prison and returning to a different area of the country. With access to Levelling the Playing Field’s network, that job becomes much easier.

“It also enables us to incorporate young people’s passions around sport and physical activity into their resettlement plans. We can start to look more carefully at linking them up with community clubs and organisations alongside education and employment opportunities, to give them a more holistic package of support which decreases the likelihood of reoffending.

“Put that together with the training and mentoring opportunities that Levelling the Playing Field provide and this partnership is rich with potential. We are looking forward to developing the relationship in the future and to the many benefits it will offer our learners in the Secure Estate and post-release.”

Rudro Sen, Levelling the Playing Field Project Manager, said: “This exciting network of partnerships we’re building with Novus, youth justice settings and specialist sport providers will greatly help young people making that transition from secure establishments back into the community. We know how crucial this kind of support is in keeping former secure estate residents on a positive path.”