Dame Kelly Holmes Trust: Getting young lives back on track

ConnectSport is working with the Sport for Development Coalition to create a monthly 'call for articles' around a particular theme. Throughout January 2019 articles will focus on 'Building stronger communities through sport and physical activity'. Here Ben Hilton, Chief Executive of the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, describes how the charity has been supporting young people in need, and connecting them with their local communities, over the last decade. To submit an article, contact hello@connectsport.co.uk.

As a charity dedicated to building stronger communities through sport and physical activity, there’s no doubt that having a double Olympic champion as your founder and President is a big help.

Inspired by Dame Kelly Holmes’ vision, over the last 10 years we have been helping young people facing disadvantage transform their lives with the help of our athlete mentors; ex world-class athletes who are transitioning to a life beyond sport.

During that time, we’ve come to know that young people are most likely to sustain an active lifestyle when they feel connected and engaged with the local community, and are surrounded by positive influences and opportunities. That’s why all of our programmes include a social action project to help young people engage with their local community.

While every one of these programmes is unique, at the heart of all them are the six principles of quality youth social action: being reflective, challenging, embedded, youth-led, progressive and socially impactful.

The Trust run both community and school-based programmes but what all our programmes have in common is that they are long term and transformative in nature.

The young people work with our athlete mentors for a minimum of six months, which allows time for attitudes to shift and sustained behavioural change to take place.

The use of world-class athletes is key to what we do. We specialise in harnessing their attitudes beyond sport and developing their skills to positively impact on the lives of young people. Our athletes are specifically trained to unlock positive behaviours in young people.

In 2017 thanks to funding from Sport England, we delivered our first youth leadership programme, called ‘Community Champions’, which supported young people to lead multiple-intervention social action projects which used sport or physical activity as the vehicle to address social issues within their local community.

Over nine months, participants worked alongside our athlete mentors and partner organisations, and delivered a series of projects on issues close to their hearts.

For example, Becki delivered mental health awareness sessions at her local rugby club; Xander delivered circus skills training to connect with a wider community of refugees and asylum-seekers in Nottingham; and Becca delivered mental health awareness sessions which led to her becoming a long-term volunteer at a local youth club in the Wirral as a result of the programme. In total, 52 Community Champions delivered 137 physical activity sessions to 843 members of their communities.

Reflecting on the programme, Zander commented: “It's really helped build my confidence and made me realise you don’t have to wait for someone else to do it. You can be the change you want to see.”

The Trust’s AQA Unlocking Potential programme is run in partnership with education charity AQA and works with young people in a school or college setting.

Over the years we have increased the element of community engagement and we are starting to see young people in schools becoming more involved with communities and local issues as a result of the programme and support from their athlete mentors.

Take Sasha for example. Last year she worked with footballer Chris Weale on the programme and for her social action project, she set up a relationship with a local foodbank and encouraged fellow students to bring in food for the local community in return for taking part in a non-uniform day at school.

I've gained a lot of respect for myself,” she said afterwards. “Before I would just put myself down. I really hope it will have a big impact in the community.”

The Trust is also currently working in Belfast in partnership with PeacePlayers International Northern Ireland to deliver a programme on behalf of the Department for Communities.

Launched in September by Dame Kelly Holmes, the programme aims to create a group of highly-motivated, skilled and socially responsible young people who are enthusiastic about driving forward positive change in their communities and in society.

Over a third of the population of Northern Ireland is under the age of under 25 and 31% of these young people say they rarely, or never socialise with people from a different religious community.

Our athlete mentors work alongside youth workers from PeacePlayers who have been supporting young people in Northern Ireland for a number of years to engage them in sports, physical and creative activities that bring communities together and help create the next generation of community leaders.

For 10 years, the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust has used the power of sport and physical activity to unlock positive attitudes and behaviours in the young people we support.

We have seen how young people have utilised these behaviours to positively impact issues affecting their communities, from loneliness, mental health and isolation to cyber bullying, abusive relationships and wellbeing.

Given the right support, young people have the ability to be leaders within their communities and at the Trust, we truly believe that sport and physical activity is a proven vehicle to build stronger communities.

Find out more about the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust on their ConnectSport directory page. To add your organisation to the directory, contact hello@connectsport.co.uk.