Transforming young lives through sport, a visit from the Secretary of State

By Sabrina Hummel, Senior Researcher, Centre For Social Justice.

Last month the CSJ hosted Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, at the Pat Benson Boxing Academy in Birmingham.

Thanks to the fantastic efforts of BoxWise, a charity running 10-week boxing programmes for disadvantaged youth through England affiliated boxing gyms, the Secretary of State sat down for an intimate conversation with young people with first-hand experience of the difference it’s made in their lives.
BoxWise runs more than forty-five programmes nationally and internationally supporting some of the most at risk young people. In Birmingham, 27.6% of children live in income deprived households. The programme is based around six core values (purpose, adaptability, imagination, discipline, emotional control and teamwork) and is designed to provide young people with a structure to channel their energies and to support them in their next steps.

On the morning of the Secretary of State’s visit, flowers had recently been laid outside the gym door to mark an incident of youth violence. The importance of getting young people moving and harnessing the power of sport for good could not have been more poignantly expressed.

As she entered the space, Coach Brad called drills to a halt and marshalled his young people. Together we hosted a Q&A, inviting the young people to share their views. The group could not have been more diverse – from under 16s from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to older students from the University of Birmingham – yet on one thing they were united; sport. Sport for physical activity, sport for mental health, sport for new opportunities and skills.

And yet these safe places and sites of potential are under threat. Since 2010, more than 760 youth centres have been closed and 4,500 youth worker jobs have been lost. At the same time, the proportion of young people committing violent crime has increased. Our landmark survey of 1001 parents of 10 to 17 year olds felt strongly that these events are connected. 79% agreed that cuts to youth centres have led to an increase in antisocial behaviour and crime.

Our eyes and ears on the frontline tell us similar things, which is why we’re conducting a new programme of work exploring the role sport can play in supporting vulnerable young people at risk of crime. We see potential sport has, and it was our great privilege to share that with the Secretary of State. The visit concluded with a boxing demonstration and invitation to get stuck in which, I’m pleased to say, she did with gusto!

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