ANALYSIS: Sport - Excluded young people can be part of the team

By Anthony Burt

| 11 February 2004

Sport can be an engaging tool in tackling the problems faced by hard-to-reach young people. Anthony Burt looks at what local projects are doing to help

The Football Foundation, a charity funded by the Premier League, Football Association and the Government, has 53m to hand out each year to communities in the UK. Much of it is going to organisations working with socially excluded young people at a local level. And it is not alone in backing projects that tackle social exclusion through sport. Local authorities also facilitate social inclusion projects that harness the power of sport to engage young people.

Street League is a national project, providing life-skills training through six-a-side football, which benefits from Football Foundation funding of 202,234 (www.streetleague.co.uk). Paul Kavanagh, project co-ordinator at Leicester Street League, says: "Sport provision by local authorities is just tokenistic youth work. There needs to be a national fund with local terms of reference so authorities can help projects implement social inclusion programmes."

The project works with former young offenders and has three Somalian refugee teams of young men aged 16 to 19. The participants have their own youth board.

Kavanagh's Leicester project gets a short-term monthly budget from the Football Foundation. But funding is often where problems can arise.

The long haul

"It's great to have the kick-start money," says Kavanagh. "But it is the backing of local companies for long-term support that we have the most trouble with."

Projects organising shorter-term programmes, like London Youth Soccer, find getting funding difficult because Sport England or the Football Foundation "only donate money to projects with a turnover of more than 10,000", says head coach Chris Taylor. London Youth Soccer (www.londonyouthsoccer.com) is working with 13-year-olds to train them as football coaches and to persuade them to become more involved in their community.

Elsewhere in London, Islington's Summer University programme will soon be receiving its next round of National Lottery funding, worth 55,000.

It is keen to attract young people beyond football fans, and other sports on offer include tennis and cricket.

Funding shortfall

With the European Year of Education for Sport launched this week, the European Commission will promote learning through sport to young people (www. eyes-2004.info). But despite the extra publicity for sports projects, Jim Wright, chairman of Racing Club Warwick FC, Warwickshire, says there is a funding shortfall. His claim came as it was confirmed last week that culture secretary Tessa Jowell has been asked by the National Audit Office to investigate why the National Lottery has so far failed to give out 2.8bn of funding across the board. Of this,16.6 per cent, or 464.8m, is due to go to youth sports projects.

Wright has experience of organising these programmes through his club's involvement in Make Space, the Nestle Trust-backed 2.5m Kids' Clubs Network youth centre scheme (www.kidsclubs. org.uk). As well as Make Space, Wright's club has joint funding for mini-soccer inclusion projects from the Children's Fund and Warwickshire County Council's Positive About Young People scheme.

Funding of 31,850 has helped Racing Club Warwick set up Football Association-accredited junior manager coaching certificates. Wright says: "This helped one local 16-year-old when he was having problems with his parents' divorce." The teenager joined the coaching scheme and put all his energy into it.

He learned computing and writing skills and now has a part-time job.

Warwick's club also places young offenders on boxing programmes. Teaching young offenders how to box may seem like encouraging violence - but the participants, who in Wright's opinion "just need a little direction", are encouraged to gain an accredited outcome. The club pays for this if they cannot afford it, on the proviso that those young people come back as youth workers once they are trained.

It is this kind of social responsibility work that inclusion through sport is so successful at. With the kinds of team skills that sport can engender in young people, it means they can feel part of a group that wants to support them.

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