Freddie Hudson (pic John Behets)
Arsenal have enjoyed more success off the field than on lately, thanks to a community outreach scheme, reports Natalie Valios
● Project name: Arsenal Kickz, Elthorne Park.
● Aims: To divert young people from crime and create safer, stronger, more respectful communities through developing young people’s potential.
● Number of young people: 198 currently engaged with the project.
● Annual cost: £41,500. Half the funding comes from the football industry and the Metropolitan Police; this is match funded by Islington Council, Islington Police and Arsenal FC. The latter also contributes a further £10,000. This pays for a full-time project lead and five part-time workers.
● Outcomes: 16 young people now working part-time for Arsenal Kickz and other Arsenal in the community projects. 20% reduction in youth crime within a one-mile radius of the project.
Anecdotally, sport is known to be an effective way of engaging young people and diverting them from crime, but to date there has been little hard evidence. However, a report from New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Teenage Kicks: The Value of Sport in Tackling Youth Crime, analyses three projects and concludes that sport is a cost-effective early intervention with young people at risk.
One of the projects featured is Arsenal Kickz. NPC found a 66% reduction in youth crime within a one-mile radius of Kickz since it started and attributes at least 20% of this to the project.
Kickz is a government programme using football to work with 12- to 18-year-olds at risk of offending, or already offending, in deprived areas with high levels of antisocial behaviour and youth crime. It is delivered by professional football clubs and started in 2006 with four clubs; there are now 39 football clubs delivering Kickz projects to 30,000 young people in the UK.
Arsenal Kickz began at Elthorne Park in September 2006. It is delivered through Arsenal FC’s community department which manages a range of sporting, educational, disability and social inclusion projects.
Before Arsenal Kickz moved into Elthorne Park, the football area was concrete, and the place was frequented by street drinkers, drug users and vandals. Kickz has transformed it, helped by a €100,000 donation from Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp which partly paid for a new AstroTurf pitch.
The project was promoted by putting flyers through letterboxes and sending youth workers out at peak times after school on to the surrounding housing estates. Since then, word-of-mouth continues to generate interest. As well as self referrals, social services, youth offending teams and other organisations, that feel a young person would benefit from the project, can make a referral. And the Safer Neighbourhoods team often tells young people they meet on their rounds about Kickz.
The Kickz model is quite prescriptive – it should run for three nights a week, two of which are for football and the third for a different activity, another sport, perhaps, or an arts night.
Stretching the budget
At Elthorne Park they have managed to stretch the budget, says Arsenal in the community manager Freddie Hudson. “We run it on four nights a week with lots of additional activities including trips to the cinema, bowling and accredited courses. Once they start attending then the important part of this project begins,” he says.
This is because Kickz is by no means just about football. In fact, Hudson says, it is secondary to this social inclusion programme: “Staff are focused on connecting with young people and trying to support them with the issues they face growing up in these areas.
“Although staff are called football coaches, this is the last thing they are really. They are youth workers who are trained in all sorts of things from gangs and knives, to substance misuse, crime and sexual health so that they can support young people who turn to them for help.”
Young people can attend workshops on these issues but, says Hudson, “we find that some young people that need these messages won’t attend a formal workshop in a classroom environment to hear a talk from the police, so we have to be creative in how we go about this”. He adds: “The youth worker can talk to them at the end of a football session or in breaks, or we may meet a young person outside the session. This informal approach is the best way to deliver messages to those who are most resistant to them.”
Everything hinges on the relationship between the staff and young people, which is why Arsenal Kickz is so successful, says Camilla Nevill, senior analyst at NPC. “The young people build up a relationship of trust and respect with the youth workers so it is easier to pass on the messages,” she adds. “Sport can be a powerful way to engage young people but it is not sport specifically that makes the change, it is the wider package that runs alongside it.”
That wider package also has a big focus on education and employment and the project has invested heavily in training and employing participants in football coaching and youth work. “They make ideal individuals to go back into the community to work with the young people coming up behind them,” says Hudson.
Case study: ‘It’s not just about football’
Sarah* and her friends were hanging out in Elthorne Park one day when they came across Jamie Monteith, the project lead for Arsenal Kickz.
“He started talking to us about playing football after school. I wasn’t interested but a lot of my friends went along and so I took part a few times but didn’t go regularly,” she says. “Jamie was constantly trying to get me involved but I was quite stubborn. I ended up getting into trouble with the police instead.”
Sarah was arrested, convicted of assault and placed on a tag; she also found out that she was pregnant. Her relationship with her mother had been rocky for a while; these two events were the final straw and Sarah left home to live in a hostel.
“I turned to Jamie because I knew he would support me. He is always there to help you, even if you mess up. I explained what was going on and told him I was pregnant. He supported me through court and after talking to him I ended up going back to live with my mum. He encouraged me to do some voluntary work to keep me out of trouble and put me on courses to get youth work and football coaching qualifications.”
For Sarah, Arsenal Kickz was the first time she had had something consistent and stable in her life: “At first I thought it was just about football, but they do so much more than that and there are lots of opportunities for young people. It is about bettering yourself, helping people and being a role model to young people.”
Sarah now lives in her own privately rented flat and is a football coaching assistant for Arsenal Kickz. “My sessions are with the Elthorne girls. It’s mainly teaching them and being a role model, listening to their problems, finding out what they want to do with their life and being a mentor like Jamie was to me.
“They listen to me because they know I talk from experience. If I had not met Jamie I think I would be sitting on income support with no incentive to do anything with my life and I would have carried on being involved in crime. Now I can show my daughter the right path.”
* Not her real name
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