STREET
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Street Soccer London helping youngsters set new goals

Young people are so often labelled these days: ‘socially excluded’, ‘at risk’ or ‘disadvantaged’....
“Street Soccer seeks to change those perceptions,” says manager Craig McManus. “We want to help young people reach a point of freedom where they can find out what they really are and where they belong.

“If we don’t do it, there’s a danger they may find that sense of belonging in a less positive environment. Our purpose as an organisation is to support young people on their journey to fulfilling their potential.”

Street Soccer London is an extension of Street Soccer Scotland, which was established over a decade ago to engage with ex-offenders, long-term unemployed, the homeless and people with mental health issues. Founder David Duke MBE spotted the potential when competing for Scotland in the Homeless World Cup.

Street Soccer London has sought to extend those philosophies to the English capital. Led by Craig, London Coordinator Jack Badu and a host of coaches and volunteers, it has only been in operation for six months (a period which includes two Covid-19 lockdowns) but already has over 300 registered players.

 
Sky Blues in the Community
 
The organisation has joined our stable of Local Delivery Partners in London and has allocated a Wednesday night session for 12-18-year-olds as a Levelling the Playing Field session. Participants’ outcome data will be recorded and will contribute to our nationwide evidence base of best practice for the use of sport in youth justice.

Participants’ first experience of Street Soccer London is purely as a drop-in football session. It’s there for them every week, so there’s consistency, stability, set standards and an initial connection. “That initial welcome is important” states Craig. “We want them to come and get an immediate impression;, ‘These guys are sound.’”

Getting them through the door is stage one of four in the development of young people who attend. “Although we’re impatient to see outcomes, we’re not forcing stage two yet,” admits Craig. “Covid has been a great teacher of patience. Before we get any grandiose ideas, we are keeping it simple and just building those individual relationships.”

Craig knows himself that it takes time. He has lived experience and came through Street Soccer Scotland’s programme as a participant. “When I went through what I did, nobody asked me intrusive questions on day one – they just let me play football,” he remembers.

“That is really important. I could just be myself for a couple of hours and play the game I loved. Then, through time, people started connecting with me in a different way. ‘How you doing? What’s your housing situation? Are you eating properly?’

 
Sky Blues in the Community
 
“They knew the right time to ask the questions – and that’s something Jack and I are very conscious of. You can’t just come out with, ‘Are you in a gang?!’ It’s gradually and subtly, ‘How are you getting on at school? How’s your family? How are you feeling about Covid?’

“That’s what we’re currently building towards in 2021. That’s exciting. We’re not trying to force anything. We do not ask – by the nature of the relationships, we find out.”

Jack adds: “It’s important to be genuine and supportive. Once you’ve developed a relationship with a young person you then know the questions to ask because you know them.

“It’s important to think, where is this young person coming from? Have they experienced trauma or poor relationships with adults in the past? How can we be different to that and support them as much as possible? The intervention must not be rushed. Kids can’t be experiments in a lab. They need to feel part of a community.”

In order to build trust, it’s important in the early engagement stage that staff are not seen as authority figures. “We mustn’t come across as a teacher or police officer,” explains Craig. “We have to be ‘on a level’ with them. In good times we have good fun, but in tough times for the individual they must feel they can come and speak to us.”

After that initial connection of stage one, stage two of Street Soccer London’s approach is (when appropriate) to start formulating a participant’s personal development plan. It’s about building social and emotional skills within a safe environment.

 
Sky Blues in the Community
 
Stage three moves things on beyond the local football pitch; experiences, awards, tournaments and field trips.

Stage four is starting to look at positive outcomes, whether a young person would like to train up as a volunteer on the programme, take a coaching qualification or become a mentor. They could also be signposted elsewhere for education, training or employment opportunities.

Young people find Street Soccer through word of mouth, outreach and youth work or as part of alternative provision to reintegrate them back into mainstream education.

Two highly fruitful partnerships – with the Black Prince Trust in Wandsworth and FAST youth and community project in Lambeth – have enabled Street Soccer London to tap into communities quickly.

Already 13 sessions are established across the two venues with 48 participants registered for their designated Levelling the Playing Field session.

“We’re looking at how we enhance and consolidate in 2021 so that’s why we’re really excited about Levelling the Playing Field,” says Craig. “We’ve already got some 17 or 18-year-olds in mind who we could engage in the mentoring training and then work with a peer group.

“The mentoring training really can support the young people into becoming game changers. They can be trained up to continue that cycle and become the ones in the future who are driving positive change.”

We are grateful to our friends at ‘Levelling The Playing Field’ for letting us re-produce this article. To find out more about their work, please follow this link to visit their website. 

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