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Sport 4 Life & Active Communities Network Create Pathways to Success & Inspire Change

Beyond Sport X Under Armour Participant Spotlight

July 28, 2023 

In celebration of our current #SportForSocialChange retail donation campaign in partnership with Under Armour which kicked off in stores in the UK last month and will ultimately expand across Europe, we’re highlighting the participating UK charities that are using sport to inspire and teach valuable life lessons to youth. Today, meet Sport 4 Life, which is providing pathways to employment, education and personal development for youth in Birmingham, and Active Communities Network, which is creating opportunities and inspiring change to tackle inequality in marginalised communities across London. 

Birmingham, located in the West Midlands, has the highest unemployment rate in England and Wales. The latest figures show that there are over 64,000 out-of-work benefits claimants in Birmingham, which represents 8.7% of the population, and the number has risen by 170 since last year. Of this figure, nearly 18,500 young people are claiming work benefits, 19% higher than before the pandemic. In the West Midlands, the number of out-of-work youth is over 53,000 – 14% higher than before the pandemic. The high unemployment mirrors high rates of youth violence and crime in the area. The number of incidents of serious youth violence across the region increased by almost 1,000 in one year. 

For the last 20 years, London has consistently had the highest poverty rate in the UK. The current cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated financial difficulties for families and increased poverty rates. According to research, around 2.5 million Londoners are in poverty, which means they are struggling to make ends meet and secure good-quality affordable housing. This also impacts the young people living in deprivation and affects their ability to access safe and affordable sports and physical activity to keep healthy. Children from low-income backgrounds are far less confident in being active and people in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be inactive.

Sport 4 Life 

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Sport 4 Life (S4L) believes in giving young people the opportunity to create a better future for themselves. Although the unemployment rate is slowly falling, for youth it still remains higher than before the pandemic. “Young people face the very real prospect of being long-term NEET [not in education, employment or training], developing mental health issues and being unable to bridge the gap between themselves and their peers,” said CEO Tom Forrest Clarke.

Therefore, the organisation focuses its support on young people aged 11 to 29 and helps them move into education, training and work through sports-themed personal development. S4L was founded in 2006 as a small community project driving disadvantaged young people into sports participation. In 2010, the charity changed its direction to facilitate social good and meaningful and sustainable impact through sport after seeing how it positively impacted young people's development and progress. Through football, basketball, cricket, martial arts and more, it engages youth through free, open-access sports sessions in local, safe venues. This initial contact enables the charity to build trust on the path to encouraging them to take up its core tailored training and mentoring services. Out of 2,608 youth that attend a sports session, 1492 progress to further education, training or employment. 

“Sport is often described as a ‘gateway into a better life’ for those experiencing poverty and living in areas of socio-economic disadvantage where sport can provide opportunities to do something positive and pro-social. This transformative role of sport is characterised by a belief that sport can build confidence at the individual level whilst also developing strong community links more widely,” said Clarke. “Through providing opportunities for individuals to engage in social activities, gain a range of experiences and develop life skills, sport offers opportunities for young people to experience first-hand positive experiences including teamwork, achievement, meeting challenges and being a winner. These opportunities can also be used to contribute to the prevention and reduction of youth offending.” 

With a vision to create a level playing field where every person can reach their full potential and build a better life for themselves, the S4L’s programming provides an alternative to traditional education. Programmes are specifically designed to bring out the best in young people by providing them with sports-based mentoring and personal development services, employability workshops, mentoring and guidance. Its employability services include accredited qualifications and training, personalised one-to-one mentoring, first-hand interaction with employers and social action projects. Through this, the “leading sport for employment charity in the West Midlands” has helped 95% of youth improve at least one life skill and 164 young people gained an accredited qualification over the last year. 

In the region, serious youth violence shot up over 40% in one year. Therefore, a major element of S4L’s EET (education, employment, training) service is crime prevention and violence reduction. The charity makes early interventions in areas where youth violence and crime rates are high, diverting them into sports sessions that take place in safe environments where mentoring and support are available.

“I was bullied throughout high school and fell in with the wrong people. I struggled a lot. Everyone at S4L really believed in me and understood me. I didn’t think I was ready to apply for jobs before coming to S4L...I realised I can take charge of my life and I am now fully aware of what I need the most from life,” shared Jamie, a participant who was offered an Assistant Sports Coach role at the charity because of her excellent relationship skills. 

With funds raised from the Beyond Sport X Under Armour campaign and seed funding provided by the retailer, S4L will invest in quality provisions, growing its services and engaging more young people in new areas.

Active Communities Network 

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Active Communities Network (ACN) has a vision to help create a world where everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, regardless of background. It operates in London, Manchester and Belfast and is on a mission to provide opportunities, inspire change and tackle inequality. The charity uses sports, arts and cultural mediums to support communities experiencing inequalities. Its support is focused on the socially and economically disadvantaged, young people at risk of violence and crime, those that lack hope and motivation, and typically, youth from an ethnic minority background. 

“Currently, the cost-of-living crisis is a huge burden on our families, not just financially but mentally. The underserved communities we work in often have parents working two or three jobs to make ends meet,” explained Community Education Manager, Aslom Shaha, who went on to share that other challenges facing youth in the region include low academic attainment, a lack of equal opportunity to develop life skills and lack of access to affordable and safe sports and arts venues. 

ACN’s programming is tailored to improving happiness, health and wellbeing, contributing to a positive society, widening opportunities, promoting inclusion and diversity and supporting educational attainment. Over the last 16 years, it has invested in research leading to the development of evidence-based programme theories and delivery models which it directly invests in its programmes. Known as ‘the ACN way’, the charity’s methodology has been applied to over 250 organisations within its network and to date it has supported over 250,000 young people, trained over 10,000 coaches and supported over 500 groups. 

Its London branch was formed in 2006 to seek new ways to improve outcomes for young people stigmatised as troublesome. Originally working in Southwark and Lambeth, ACN now reaches young people across all 32 boroughs in London through a network of community partners. It has five key projects in London, which address many challenges youth face in the region including increasing gang violence, the lack of art institutions such as museums and theatres in low-income communities, the lack of women and girl leaders and women-led organisations, unemployment and a lack of employment and training opportunities. 

Its sport meets arts programme provides an opportunity for young people to develop new skills around events, business development, community initiatives and more. This initiative breaks down barriers within the art sector and creates access for youth to experience, explore and enjoy rich culture and arts. However, the core of its programming is sports. Through football, basketball, dance, tennis, taekwondo and more, ACN engages its youth and builds its relationships from there. 

“In the communities we work in, sport is a valuable tool in breaking down barriers for engagement. Often children and young people would be reluctant to engage but with sport as an ice breaker, we can reach communities and develop a working relationship to build trust, a sense of belonging and pathways for our members to aspire to achieve. Sport transcends across communities, genders, races and religions and is a universal language,” said Shaha. 

One participant who experiencing the benefits is 17-year-old Adam who joined ACN through its community basketball sessions. After six months, he gained valuable life skills and coaching experience, and this summer, ACN helped him secure paid work which “will help him save money before going to university next year.” 

“Funding is pivotal to our delivery. It allows us as an organisation to alleviate the financial burden our communities face in assessing affordable activities and services,” shared Shaha. Funds raised from the Beyond Sport X Under Armour partnership will help ACN reach more youth from underserved communities and deliver sports programmes not only during school holidays but all year round. It will also be used to deliver more coaching and enhance existing programmes. 

Learn more about the incredible organisations we're working to support in the UK HERE. If you live in Birmingham, London, Manchester, Liverpool and York in England or Edinburgh in Scotland, please consider visiting your local Under Armour store to support #SportforSocialChange!


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