Inspire a generation?

Ahead of National Paralympic Day, Zoe Mellis, Head of London Youth’s sports development programme, Getting Ready, looks back on the changes in community sports across the capital in the two years since the start of London 2012.

When London Youth first launched its sports development programme, Getting Ready for the Games and Beyond back in 2009, none of us really knew what to expect. Of course, we knew that youth clubs could be great places for engaging young people in sport: after all clubs like Streatham Youth and Community Trust, Alford House, the Harrow Club W10 and many others have long traditions of using sport to help young people develop personal qualities and skills to help them live healthy active lives.

And obviously we also knew that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – hence the name of our programme. But even as a team who love sport ourselves, we couldn’t have imagined how much the capital – and the country – would have been inspired by the brilliant atmosphere of the Games, the amazing performances of the elite athletes, and of course the passion shown by the volunteers – which the vast majority of community sport relies upon.

I was at a Parliamentary reception earlier this summer to celebrate the London Youth Games and youth sport in general, which was a great chance to reflect on how things have changed in sports development in the two years since London 2012. To begin with, I believe now that the case for sports programmes like Getting Ready, operating in community settings has really been accepted, which is a huge step forward. Our programme model puts young people at the heart of the decision-making, offers activities in a huge range of sports (ensuring there really is something for everyone to try), and we deliver the sessions where young people choose to be – their local youth club, where those who would ordinarily shy away from sports, are willing to have a go.

Sport England, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and National Governing Bodies (NGBs) now recognise youth clubs as viable and effective places to deliver high quality sports, which certainly wasn’t the case a few years ago.  NGBs have tailored their training courses and are working with us to promote adapted versions of their game – ideal to deliver in youth clubs with limited facilities – and reach those youngsters who would otherwise miss out.

And it’s definitely working. Since 2009 we have engaged 7,500 young people in regular sport, 40% of whom were currently doing no exercise outside of compulsory school sport, and 90% of those young people were still playing sport in their youth club a year later. We’ve also trained over 1,000 youth workers and young people as sports coaches and activators, with 116 going onto paid employment within the sports industry.

This is all great progress and made possible thanks to generous investment by funders – from Sport England to the GLA and Wembley National Stadium Trust to a range of valued corporate and trust supporters – all of whom recognise the value of working at the grassroots level.

But I can’t help but think that a huge opportunity has been missed in not replicating the legacy created following the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 where an endowment fund LA84 was set up using the surplus created by the Games – a fund that is still benefiting Californian’s some 30 years later.

With more investment, clubs would be able to extend their opening hours and prevent young people having two hours to kill between school and attending their local youth club, as is the case in a club in Euston. Young people are forced to hang around outside the club until two members of staff are present. That time could surely be better spent playing sport, or doing other fun, structured activities. The story is the same for many other clubs. Even where there has been investment in new facilities, such as 3G football pitches and multi-use games areas, too often there is not the revenue funding for clubs to fully utilise these facilities because of a lack of paid staff.

There are signs that these needs are being recognised. Along with a number of other organisations, we’re using a clear outcomes framework to measure the impact of our programme. Funders and politicians are listening, and we hope that as they see clear and sustained results, they will invest. And the Mayor of London has just announced a new fund, which aims to support organisations to develop and sustain themselves while delivering sports programmes.

My team and I were incredibly proud when the London Sport Awards recognised Getting Ready, and also the achievements of Francis, a young man who had joined the sports programme through his youth club and through working with coaches and youth workers, had turned his life around, becoming a Play Leader and qualified coach in his own right.

So I think there is a positive legacy from 2012. And the sports team and the members of London Youth are up for sustaining it. We need to keep showing the value of community sport and the vital role of youth clubs and making sure that funders and policymakers see and hear about the success of Francis – and thousands like him – and invest in the long term so it is a legacy that lasts for generations to come.

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