News | Published May 20 2019

DCMS Select Committee: Sport has "unique power" to change lives

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have released a report detailing the social impact of participation in culture and sport. Describing the “unique power” of sport and culture to improve lives, reduce crime and regenerate communities, they criticised the “failure” of the government to “recognise and harness social impact.” In order to assess the impact of such initiatives on the ground, we spoke to Wave Leisure Trust, a charity and social enterprise that aims to inspire an active lifestyle.

The report, entitled “Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport” studied various initiatives and charities that offer cultural and sporting opportunities to vulnerable people: prisoners, young people and those at risk of joining gangs.

The report identified four key trends. In terms of the effect of these programmes, they found that reoffending rates can be reduced through access to cultural or sporting programmes and that involvement in the arts provides a constructive influence on young people. Despite this however, they found that sport is “dropping off the agenda” within education and arts subjects are being given less importance in schools.

To assess the link between access to sporting opportunities and reduced reoffending, the committee studied the “Get Onside” programme, conducted by the rugby club Saracens’ Sports Foundation. The programme works with those interned in HMP Feltham Young Offenders Institute. They found that while the average reoffending rate in England and Wales after one year stood at over 40 per cent, those that were involved in the programme had a reoffending rate of just 15 per cent.

Similarly, the “Divert” scheme, run in partnership between the Metropolitan Police and local football coaches in south London, achieved significantly lower rates of reoffending. The programme offers “potentially life-changing opportunities” to young people in custody between the ages of 18-25 and the committee found that the reoffending rate was 22 per cent lower than the average rate for adults across London.

In order to harness the potential of these social interventions, the committee outlined key recommendations. They called for increased funding for community initiatives and organisations that target young people at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of criminal activity. They also recommended that Ofsted inspections assess the amount of cultural education offered by both primary and secondary schools. Finally they said that DCMS “must” set up and lead a cross-government group on the impact of sport and culture, specifically prioritising the impacts on health, education, criminal justice and regeneration.

The chair of the committee, Damian Collins MP, said: “Culture and sport play a major role in how we see our nation. What we’ve focused on in our inquiry is the transformative power of culture and sport not just to enrich the value of our lives but to address a range of long-standing social problems.

“We cannot break the debilitating cycle of gang violence and knife crime just by arresting those who commit offences. Government statistics clearly show that custodial sentences in and of themselves do not necessarily rehabilitate young offenders. In schools we have seen that sport and culture can improve educational attainment as well as the wellbeing of the students. Social activities like group singing and walking football can improve the mental and physical health of those who take part.

“Yet despite this and the many incredible case studies we have seen as part of this inquiry, there is a lack of a credible agenda to harness the power of culture and sport across government. More needs to be done to co-ordinate and invest in community initiatives, share evidence of success and encourage others to emulate examples of best practice.

I would also like to record the Committee’s recognition of the value of the work done by volunteers that give so many people the opportunity to take part in programmes across the country.”

Wave Leisure Trust is one such social enterprise that offers active programmes. Focused on being at the heart of the improvement of health and wellbeing in their community, they cater for well over one million visitors a year and aim to promote an active lifestyle through the provision of a range of physical activities. CEO Duncan Kerr told us:

“While Wave is recognised as award-winning when it comes to managing leisure centres, our passion and drive is focused on whole-of-life impact, working in communities, promoting positive experiences, good health and wellbeing choices as well as community cohesion and social inclusion.”

“Working with people across the generations has enabled us to engage with those who are considered to be most at risk in a number of areas, including: long-term health conditions, social isolation and poor lifestyle choices including criminal activity.

Talking about Wave’s Active Schools Programme, Liz Allsobrook, Wave’s Head of Community and Health Improvement states: “Our work has enabled us to engage with children and young people at risk of dropping out of education by taking them to learn in an alternative environment through the Active Schools Programme. These programmes link sport and physical activity with curriculum science, history, geography and the arts as well as showcasing positive role models and supporting emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. Our participants demonstrate improved educational attainment, better health choices and reduce poor behaviour.”

“Working with those who often don’t have opportunities to engage in successful and positive experiences also helps prevent them from entering into the criminal justice system. It can also contribute to increased confidence, self-esteem and generally make people feel better about themselves and become part of a community which supports one another, through team work and encouragement.

“Sport and physical activity is a tool which can truly impact community safety and an area’s educational attainment and health and wellbeing profile. It is undervalued however and not recognised for its achievements and the opportunities it creates for cross-sector and departmental workings at local and national level. This includes within its own sector where leisure centres are often seen as a space for hire, not recognising the skill and knowledge of staff who regularly are working with these targeted and disengaged groups.

“To truly value the impact of local leisure trusts means not just focusing on measures which demonstrate savings to local authority budgets for managing facilities, or how many attendances have been made within a swimming pool, but recognising the effects of participation within open access and targeted activity and the real life changes it can bring to people and places."

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
May 20 2019

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