A unique partnership of services in Newport has been given a national award for the life-changing support it offers local ethnically diverse children.
Youth community sport and physical activity providers Positive Futures, local primary schools, key community figures and organisations, Newport Youth Justice, police, Sport Wales and even professional boxers have all joined forces to form a strong and trusted support network for local children to protect and divert them from the many nefarious and exploitative influences on the streets.
The partners were initially brought together by Levelling the Playing Field, a national project using sport and physical activity to tackle over-representation of ethnically diverse children in the youth justice system.
Levelling the Playing Field is delivered by a network of organisations across Gwent, the West Midlands, London and South Yorkshire. It is a £1.7m project funded by the London Marathon Charitable Trust and co-managed by the Alliance of Sport and Youth Justice Board.
Levelling the Playing Field is the biggest project of its kind ever conducted in the UK, uniting people and organisations who use sport and physical activity to engage children and achieve positive change in ethnically diverse communities. The project shares good practice, trains frontline staff and helps all its partners evidence their impact to scale up and advance future policy, practice and investment.
The Newport partnership’s work has been rewarded with the ‘Community Partnership of the Year’ award at Levelling the Playing Field’s inaugural awards, which took place at Decathlon Surrey Quays in London on Saturday July 16.
The Newport network has set up a packed timetable of sport sessions for children in the city’s ethnically diverse communities of Maindee and Pillgwenlly. These sessions include football, rugby, skateboarding and boxing which has proved massively popular, especially as local Commonwealth Games gold medalist Sean McGoldrick often pops by to inspire the youngsters.
The philosophy of the Newport partnership can be summed up as ‘connection before correction’; in other words, you need to connect and build a trusted relationship with each child before you can even think about correcting their behaviors.
It’s sport and physical activity that allows those connections to build. Sport – delivered in safe places and by safe faces – provides the platform where trusting relationships develop. Only when that trust is earned can session staff begin to understand what problems children are facing and use the network to help.
“Levelling the Playing Field provided the common ground for people to come together around this topic of supporting children, because there needs to be significant change,” says Lucy Donovan, Development Manager at Positive Futures.
“The partnership is making huge strides in ensuring decision and policy makers are aware of the issues young people are facing and is currently pushing for societal and system change to ensure needs can be met. Together, we prevent ethnically diverse children and young people from being lost ‘in the system’ and help them find their place in our shared community.”
One notable innovation has been a member of staff from the Youth Justice Service, Matt Elliott, being embedded within the Positive Futures team to build and maintain connections at a preventative stage before the child can become immersed in offending and exploitation.
Matt has become a friendly and familiar face to the children (and not just because he is a dead ringer for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp!). Matt’s presence adds consistency to the lives and daily routines of every child. They know and trust him, and he can speak to parents/carers, offer guidance and help deal with issues when they occur.
This is a stark contrast to the fluctuating support of the past, where short-term funding and the decimation of youth services saw sport provision come and go – meaning trusted relationships either never started or began to develop and were then abruptly and damagingly severed.
Justin Coleman, COO of the Alliance of Sport (who manage Levelling the Playing Field in partnership with the Youth Justice Board) explained: “The Newport multi-agency partnership works so closely together it feels like a prosocial family.
“They use a communicative partnership approach so when a corrective or critical care situation arises, they are proactively positioned to communicate, solve, and support from multiple perspectives. The young person feels – and is – supported by an entire caring community. They are connected, before ‘connection before correction’ is even needed.
“Research indicates this differs from a strategic partnership approach, as this tends to form because of a problem, rather than be formed before the problem emerges.”