Investment in local sports schemes has soared as new means are
sought to reduce youth offending. But do they work? Graham Hopkins
finds out.

Last summer if you asked 17-year-old Stephen Richards (not his
real name) to write his CV it would constitute a catalogue of
crime. He would rather be on a job than get one. But in July 2001,
after another mobile phone indiscretion, his link to the life of
crime was cut off. Instead he connected with sport.

In its aim to tackle youth offending, the government has got
physical. In March, culture secretary Tessa Jowell pulled no
punches: “We know already the ingredients that make up the reasons
why a young person turns to crime. They include having no role
models, no self-respect, no self-discipline, and nothing better to
do.” And, with a finishing burst, she added that: “Engaging them in
sportÉ gives them all the tools they need to make a success of
their lives and keep them off crime.”

The football playing, non-offending Stephen Richards has now
completed his community sports leader award, and is studying for
his FA coaching certificate. Excluded from school, he’s now
applying for a BTech in Sport and Leisure.

As a direct alternative to hanging out, sport not only burns up
energy and mischief, but also fuels leadership skills and education
in young people. Widespread involvement in sport doesn’t come
cheap, but the costs of doing nothing are a similarly heavy weight
to lift.

At the start of this year, there were 2,170 juvenile prisoners
held in custody, most of whom are kept in young offenders
institutions at a cost of £44,500 for each individual each
year. Some of this money could be better used to give young people
a sporting chance. And setting the pace is the Positive Futures
programme. The management, partnerships and funding arrangements
put together illustrate team work at its best.

Launched in March 2000, Positive Futures, a partnership between
Sport England, the Youth Justice Board and the United Kingdom
Anti-Drugs Co-ordination Unit, aims to use sport to reduce
antisocial behaviour, crime and drug use among 10 to 16 year olds.
Its first year funding included £500,000 from the government’s
confiscated assets fund.

Originally delivered in 24 locations spread around England, its
success has seen this year an increase to 57 schemes, with
additional partners the Football Foundation on side.

It has been estimated that between April and September over
4,100 young people took part in the Positive Futures programme,
enjoying over 10,000 hours of sport. That the average attendance is
thought to be as high as 78 per cent across the country is
indicative of its attraction.

And its national success – at the same cost as keeping 21 young
people locked up for a year – has been extraordinary. Not least in
Barking and Dagenham. “We have a range of programmes,” says Robin
Tuddenham, strategic manager, Youth Offending Team, “but our
flagship is the Positive Futures programme based on the high crime
Gascoigne estate in Barking. Evaluation indicates we have the
largest fall of all the schemes in the country.” Police statistics
show that the number of offences decreased by 77 per cent in June
to August 2001 compared with the same period in 2000. Its success
is mirrored in places such as Hull where youth crime across the
city has fallen by 56 per cent and where none of the regular
participants on the scheme have offended since becoming involved in
the project.

A national evaluation report, carried out for Sport England on
the impact of Positive Futures, notes that the success of schemes
is directly linked to the enthusiasm, commitment and abilities of
the staff and volunteers involved. Tuddenham concedes his borough’s
debt to the efforts of project manager Grant Cornwell, employed by
the respected Football in the Community scheme run by Leyton Orient
Football Club. “He’s the lynchpin; the kind of person who gives up
three nights a week, rain or shine, to coach young people who can
be very challenging and antisocial, and does it with few

As well as football, young people on the estate are offered
evening basketball coaching and tuition around life issues. The
borough also exploits the benefits offered by the junior sports
leader award (JSLA) – a nationally recognised leadership programme
offering young people between the ages of 14 and 16 the opportunity
to learn how to become a sports coach.

These awards are administered by the charity British Sports
Trust. Around 60,000 young people in 2,700 settings each year take
part. The awards are open to all young people, but nonetheless 85
per cent of prisons and young offenders institutions run the
awards, and according to BST’s Andrew Smart, “45 per cent of
courses are run in the 30 per cent most deprived areas in

The BST are also involved with the newly launched “Step into
Sport” project. The £7m project, which aims to create around
60,000 young coaches, has John Barnes, the former Liverpool and
England international footballer, as patron or, it might be
suggested, role model-in-chief.

Role models were in short supply on the Southmead estate in
Bristol. In terms of young people’s achievements in education,
skills and training it is among the poorest 2 per cent of wards in
England. Well over half of all Southmead children aged 0 to 16 are
living in households that are claiming some form of means-tested
benefits, and 39 per cent of under-18s have been referred to social
services at some point in their lives.

Tired of rising crime and collapsing pride, local residents,
early in 1997, got together with the city council and police to
tackle the continuing problem of youth crime and disaffection on
the estate. Forming themselves into “The Voice of Southmead”, they
sought to improve the community and restore hope and choices to
young people. Their vehicle was the Southmead Youth Sports
Development Initiative.

Its youth centre provides boys and girls football, weight
training, gymnastics, badminton, boxing and tennis. Attendance has
almost doubled in the past three years. And the scheme has posted
some impressive results – a 3 per cent increase in crime has been
turned into a 15 per cent drop in crime, while juvenile arrests
have been reduced by 43 per cent.

Local resident, Pauline Teddy, recalls only too well what the
estate used to be like. “The place had hit rock bottom. We were let
down by a lot of people but we also let it happen ourselves.” She
volunteered to help out with the girls’ football. “In the first
year we took a team to Kettering, to represent Bristol. They were
so unruly it was embarrassing and we had to pull them out. The next
year, after a lot of work, they went back and won the fair play
award. We were so proud of them. Sport helps people good about

Having respect and feeling part of a team are basic sporting
requirements that translate well into life. However, sport is not
the only player in town. In Southmead and elsewhere links are also
drawn with arts projects in particular. Tapping into young people’s
creativity and opening-up activities for all, while benefiting
at-risk groups, helps to avoid the possibility of stigmatising the
young people involved and also encourages greater

Southmead has been a case of a community rebuilding its
self-esteem, in the main through sport. As Chris Dare, national
youth work co-ordinator of the National Association for the Care
and Resettlement of Offenders says: “Tackling crime is not just an
issue for police and courts, but for the whole of the community.
Sport brings communities together.” And you’ll be hard-pushed to
find anybody on the Gascoigne or Southmead estates crying “foul”
over that.

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