Bring the Noise - Looks like we’re going to have to shout even louder, just to ensure their voices are truly heard.
Posted: Mon, 23 Oct 2023 10:11
I tend to only write blogs when I feel there is something critical or helpful to highlight, or something I need to get off my chest more than a social media post allows! Due to a very hectic and thought provoking 2-3 weeks in the sector, this is one of those occasions where I wanted to reflect and give my own honest assessment given, I'm feeling sad, let down, but also inspired and motivated in equal measure! Here's why…
In September 2023, we have seen DCMS release the long awaited 'Get Active' strategy paper, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) release their 'Game Changer' paper, and the Youth Employment UK (YEUK) team publish their annual 'Youth Voice Census' report too. Coach Core has again been privileged to work with both the CSJ and YEUK closely over the last 12 months, but even knowing them well and readying ourselves for their reports, the findings and data still came as a real shock to the system. I also attended the recent Social Mobility Commission's 'State of the Nation' event which was another extremely eye opening session. But before I get to that, let's start with the DCMS strategy…
Like many peers, we have been waiting for this DCMS paper for some time. In my opinion, 2015's 'Sporting Future' strategy really did turn the tide on the perception of sport, and demonstrated the power of the wider physical activity and health sector in all areas of society and the economy. As we went about realising those ambitions, by collaborating and truly enhancing the quantity and quality of work in the sector, I think we all had high hopes for what Government would then empower us to do as a result. We all know that sport and physical activity, when delivered well, leads to happier and healthier people, and creates a powerful multiplying effect felt in our hospitals, on our streets and in our classrooms. You only had to see how the sector stepped up as one during the pandemic to know our power and influence. There has also been incredible recent impact from projects like Baroness Thompson's Duty of Care findings, and the subsequent Whyte Review, that will have lasting effects for the safeguarding and wellbeing of our young athletes, through to the brilliant SRA led International Working Group, that has built on This Girl Can, and will push continue to empower even more women and girls until at least 2026. So much progress and so many lives changed.
However, as the political fallout worsened, first through Brexit and then during/post Covid19, we continued to not only wait for that second strategy but also start to lose heart that it would allow us to build on the momentum we had gained. Some of us wondered if it was coming at all, but finally, it did indeed arrive!...
If I'm brutally honest, most of us saw what we probably expected to see. Ambitious big numbers, eye catching data, and bringing out some truly inspiring people in their taskforce, like Ugo, who really do 'get it' was very welcome. It was also great to see an acceptance that the disadvantage gap hasn't been solved in the last decade, that social prescribing is a very real thing our sector can support, and a growing demand for all organisations to be more ESG aware. But that's about as positive as I can be I'm afraid.
The "unapologetic" big target numbers and 3 core priorities all just felt more hopeful than intended to me, and whilst it gave lip service to the power of sport and the need to work collaboratively, for me, it felt like it was ultimately asking those that work in the sector to do more but without any meaningful support or tools to do so.
For example, the commitment to PE and School Sport to 2025 is great but does that really show a commitment to keeping our children healthy and active long term? This should be the biggest priority as it has been shown time and again that active kids are more alert and engaged with their wider education if there is decent physical activity provision. There is also £230m earmarked to support 'all disadvantaged people', which with the respect, is the same amount as given to things like simply improving UK 5G, so is this relatively meaningful investment? In addition to this, I know peers in the third sector continue to feel let down. We feel we have the insight and expertise Government needs to make the biggest difference, particularly to those considered disadvantaged and/or inactive. However, once more it feels like as a collective, we are not valued enough to be given meaningful support or trust to address these issues. The CSJ agrees we have so much potential to be an even greater frontline service but presently, we are just funding and operating as best we can, always 'just being there', and picking up the pieces when needed.
And while I'm on one, I don't like the title either! 'Get Active' - like it's an instruction to those who have all just chosen not to be active this whole time, rather than as we know, many have multiple barriers in their way to get active at all. As we know, the Sport England 'Active Lives Survey' is a brilliant indicator of physical activity and the demographics surrounding it. But my fear is that we go after some of the low hanging fruit 'in the middle' to attain these lofty DCMS targets, rather than truly focus efforts and investment, in every sense, on those that need the help the most.
I honestly want to believe in this strategy as much as I did Sporting Future, and we will of course still be using its direction to ensure that Coach Core is working to the same collective goals as everyone else. I just really hoped this directive would've provided much greater support for those who can target and positively influence the societal groups that suffer the same stubborn inequalities, and guide us all with much more granular details on how we can achieve these big numbers they have set. Some may say that level of detail isn't possible, but the CSJ has shown it entirely is…
Chaired by Lord Nash, and with a brilliant, wide reaching advisory group, the Game Changer paper sought to outline what the true state of the nation is linked to young people education, safety, wellbeing and their relationship with sport and physical activity. It is a truly deep and incredibly well researched piece of work that highlighted so many critical issues facing the children of Britain. I'll rattle off just a few of the stark facts this paper has revealed:
- 140,000 children are 'severely' absenting from school, equating to one in every class, and a quarter of all kids are absent at least 10% of the time. This obviously has massive impact on their education, but we must also consider the social skills, confidence, and safety factors this level of absence will have on their long-term progression.
- Over 1 million children live in a household affected by the 'toxic trio' of issues: addiction, poor mental health and/or abuse. That number is only growing and will only perpetuate the cycles of negativity if unaddressed.
- 2-3% of all children in London now carry a knife and there has been a 12% rise in first time children offenders entering the system. The more desperate the times, the higher the crimes, and given the life chances for anyone being prosecuted for an offence before leaving school are staggeringly impacted, this is of huge concern.
- In 2018, there were 8,650 cases involving gangs. By 2020, this was 14,700 showing an increasing number of young people are seeking community, safety, and opportunities by joining their local gang.
- Linking the two above, half of all stabbings involving under 16's take place during the 4-6pm window and three quarters take place in or around the school. With no safe places to go, the risk is very real.
- There has been a 70% real term decline in local authority spending on youth services from 2010 – 2019. 4,500 youth jobs gone in that same period, and for every youth centre that shuts (760 in that decade), UK Youth report that there are 50 more knife crimes in that local area as a result. The net spend, per young person, has gone from £136pp to £54. And its only getting worse.
Very sobering figures, specific to children and young adults, but what really piqued my attention was eighteen detailed, CSJ recommendations as to what it would take to solve these issues, and critically, a full list of specific and logical funding solutions to support them. But you may ask if this is just the CSJ take on things? Well, in a word - no!
The YEUK census surveyed over 4000 11–30-year-olds across April and May this year. Again, their findings underline just how concerning the current climate is for young people and seemingly only getting worse:
- 4 in 10 young people don't feel safe where they live. Think about that. The CSJ paper details significant risk around their schools and a high number feel they are at risk close to home too. So where is safe haven?
- Based on last year's scores, 40% more parents felt they are providing support compared to 2022. 40%! The highest increase was linked to mental health (16% more).
- Only 12.4% of young people feel like there are quality work opportunities where they live. The majority feel they must leave home and relocate, which given current housing and economic climate is easier said than done, and speaks volumes about rural, coastal, and northern city inequalities.
- Linked to this, the Social Mobility commission report that three quarters of kids with parents in low-level jobs will follow them into similar low-level jobs. Even if two kids have the exact same socio-economic background, the telling factor about them truly breaking that cycle will largely be down to them staying or leaving their area.
- The SM commission also showed the girls have greater education attainment and are more likely to go to higher education, but then this is not reflected in the employment roles and opportunities when they leave.
But as ever, I'm not here to just moan! There are real elements of hope amongst this backdrop…
- YEUK report that 3 in 4 of respondents that were/are on an apprenticeship feel prepared for their next steps, a real sign that meaningful education and employment vastly enhances your career prospects and wellbeing.
- Sport England show that sport and physical activity not only helps bring people together, but it also develops stronger communities for people of all backgrounds to interact, take part, volunteer, or spectate together.
- Indeed our own independent evaluation show that apprentices have increased life satisfaction and value that they get to remain in their own local area to not only benefit themselves, but impact their community too.
- The Youth Endowment Fund showed that those that engage with higher levels of physical activity leads to a direct correlation to lower levels of violence, particularly in crime hot spots.
- Chances Social Impact Bond show for every £1 spent on sports interventions, it unlocks £10.20 of public value.
The CSJ 2020 'A Theory of Change' paper stated: "achieving long term change with young people requires long term commitment to those young people. The offer needs to be consistent, and engagement needs to be over a long period, either within the project or by linking to other opportunities". My apologies for being blunt but too often, projects are lauded as being 'life changing'. Some are absolutely that, providing interventions at the right time when someone is at their most vulnerable. However, many others claim this title when so often, they have simply provided a positive experience in the here and now. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as everyone needs positivity, but it's a big difference to those giving long term, life altering outcomes to the people that really need it. This is where the true potential lies; we need to hold up the work/impact of the genuinely life changing organisations, foster even greater partnerships, thus enabling stronger collective outputs. We then become even harder to ignore!
My biggest sense of pride since co-founding Coach Core in 2012 is that we enable collaboration in its truest sense. It's in our DNA and I am immensely proud of how we deliver our apprenticeship, and our innovative support model. But you must understand that we are nothing without our partners and the support from the wider sector.
As a charity, we work with amazing donors and supporters to ensure we can provide additional funds to employers willing to take on a rough gem, but we also bring a decade's worth of experience, guidance, and of course our own education offer, that each employer and young person can benefit from. But that all means nothing if we don't have the partnerships to create the impact! Our model relies entirely on incredible individuals and organisations that work with us before, during and after a Coach Core programme. Ultimately, if we can't find the right young talent, we don't get to work with amazing community employers, who aren't then supported by incredible training partners, and as a result, collectively, we don't get to change a young person's life. It is as simple as that and believe me, that one person's life is always worth changing as the ripple effect of doing so is huge. We've now supported nearly 1000 apprentices, but they in turn have then gone on to provide sport/physical activity to approx. 11.9m people!
I have always seen life as 'The 3x P's'; personal, professional, passion. If you have a great family, an amazing job, and hobbies you do regularly, you are literally winning at life. But imagine your home life is awful, you can't get a job/onto a course, and you can't access the thing you love most due to funds or location. What life is that? It is no wonder particularly young people feel like they have nowhere to turn, and these interventions take time, trust and levels of expertise only certain individuals and organisations can deliver.
People often say to me 'yeah but charities always need more money'. Well, yes, we need the funding to deliver our services, keep people in jobs, and we need more of it if we are good at what we do. Same as any business, right? But so often, we want to create impactful partnerships that leverage better ways of working, combine skills and opportunities, and create cost effective measures, such as shared resources and using facilities that aren't used to their full potential. Coach Core isn't doing anything revolutionary – we just believe in collaboration to our very core.
My point is that despite the statistics pointing to a worsening state in this post Brexit/post pandemic/current cost of living crisis, there are already amazing organisations doing incredible things. We don't need to be told how to work on a shoestring, how to develop brilliant people or be challenged to do more for society… its what we do, or what we all want to do more of anyway! What we really want is a chance to be able to use everything we know and do brilliantly to full effect. If we were enabled to really show what physical activity can do for this country, my unqualified but utterly passionate and experienced response is that we'll show you a better NHS, better education/post 16 outcomes, less stress on police and justice services, and happier and better-connected communities.
There is an entire generation of young people that have a voice, but they simply can't be heard right now. We are their megaphones; we are the ones who can not only be their voice but also have our collective voices come together and tell an even greater story to more people than ever before. If we get that right, and we leverage that big support, I honestly believe that sport and physical activity can change the entire social and economic fabric of this country.
Gary Leybourne, Coach Core Foundation. September 2023.