In our regular feature showcasing the best and most innovative Sport for Development projects across the UK, we catch up with Jamie Cairns, Director at Sporting Chance to hear about how they are using sport to turn around the lives of young offenders.
So what does Sporting Chance do?
“Sporting Chance empowers children and young people through sport and fitness to gain qualifications, achieve employment and improve social skills, alongside this, we specialise in improving health and social outcomes via our innovative sport, exercise and health programmes.”
What role does sport play in your programme?
“A lot of the people we get through our doors have anti-social behaviours, mental health issues or have a disability. We use boxing and fitness as the vehicle to break down barriers and build relationships.
We believe in a diversified and tailored approach when it comes to working with young people so we design an engaging programme with the young people that they ‘’buy into’’. With an experienced and flexible delivery team, we are able to harvest young people’s interest within sport and fitness and change their mind sets and create positive behaviour.”
How does your engagement model work?
“Everyone we work with has some sort of interest in sport and fitness, which usually breaks the first barrier. With having a partnership with the Newcastle Youth Offending team, we get the most high-risk young offenders – young people who are too high risk for mainstream education and are at risk to themselves and the community.
At the other end of the spectrum, we do a lot of outreach work. This involves us physically going out into the local community and trying to get young people off the street and into our gym. Quite often they might be kicked out of school and known as NEET. These young people may not necessarily be known to the Youth Offending teams, but are at the cusp, so putting this prevention work in place is vital to the young people’s lives.”
What are some of the challenges of working with this group and how do you overcome these?
“With some of the young people we work with, anti-social tendencies run in the family. So, breaking the mould is very difficult. There is no real ‘’fix for this’’ but we hope showing them a different path, will allow them to make their own mind up. Because of this the relationship our tutors have with the young people becomes vital.
We also get a lot of young people with ADHD which may be undiagnosed, which causes a bigger problem as this can lead to uncomfortable and difficult conversations. Honesty is the best policy for this. We have all faced conversations no one likes to have, but we have helped more young people understand the condition and helped them towards diagnosis which makes it worth it. For those who do have a diagnosis, we give them techniques on how to channel their behaviour in a positive light.”
What have been some of your most memorable achievements?
“Our most high risk young person (now 18) from the age of 9 has been committing a series of offences before going to custody at the age of 13. Once released at the age of 15 he had no qualifications and was deemed as high risk of reoffending. 20 months later he has his first qualification and hasn’t committed any serious offence. Some of our more general work has been working with young people who have low self-esteem, confidence, and no aspirations. Giving them a purpose and volunteering opportunities have seen these young people flourish and head more towards the labour market.”
What’s the most important factor for the programme’s success?
“Getting down to the young people’s level and trying to inspire them. Although it’s a bit big headed using an example such as myself. But showing young people where I started and where I am now is quite powerful. I did a lot of volunteering as a youngster, applying for grants to do work within the community and coaching junior football teams. This led me to winning national prestigious awards for my coaching which took me into managing one of the biggest sport organisations in the UK before starting my own organisation.”
What are your plans for the future?
“It is my personal and professional goal to be the ‘White Knight’ of Newcastle – creating a safe and supportive environment and service for everyone in Newcastle to enjoy. We are in development stages with the local authority on developing an abandoned area to create a multi-use arena that will house our organisation, an amateur boxing club, a professional boxing club, a dance studio, public gym, café and bar area along with offices on the ground floor. However, we need letters of recommendation from other organisations and of course funding!”
For more information about Sporting Chance, please visit: