With the economy struggling and youth unemployed a problem, these are challenging times for Britain. The country needs to utilise every weapon at its disposal in order improve the situation – and as one charity is finding, football can be a powerful tool with which to change lives.
Street League is a charity devoted to changing the lives of disadvantaged young people through the power of football. Adam Bate caught up with chief executive Matt Stevenson-Dodd to find out more…
How did Street League start?
Street League was started in 2001 by a doctor called Damian Hatton. He was working in an A&E department and started to see the same homeless people coming through. He started to think he really needed to do something about this so he set up a league of homeless hostels in a football tournament and called it the London Street Football League. He never looked back. He shortened the name to Street League and that was the start of the charity.
It has just evolved from there. I took over in 2010. By then the organisation had grown quite a lot and was trying to do lots of different things. But for me at the heart of it was football and the power of football to engage people. It was really about focusing so we decided to concentrate on 16 to 25 year olds and focus on tackling youth unemployment.
Football can be a powerful tool can’t it?
At the heart of Street League is something amazing that really does work very well, particularly in disadvantaged communities and particularly with young people who like football. I’ve been in youth work for 20 years and nothing is as powerful as football for engaging young people. It’s instantaneous. Things that would take me three months as a youth worker trying to build a relationship, you can do that in days on a pitch just because young people want to learn something. There’s a skill that you can pass on to young people that is so powerful.
But that’s just the start…
What I think a lot of sports development organisations miss out is that they don’t then do anything with that, they just assume that good things are going to happen. That’s a little bit where Street League was. But you can start to say to young people, ‘What are you going to do with your future? What are you going to do with your life?’
That relationship with the coach can then be so powerful that it can take them on a journey. Young people who’ve fallen out with school and hated school with no idea what they wanted to do, you can actually get them back on track through the power of football and that relationship.
I think the problem with a lot of employability courses is that they just think they need to get a load of kids back in the classroom, give them three weeks training and chuck them into work. But these are kids who hated the classroom and I think this is completely the wrong way to go about it. The right way to go about it is to get them doing something they love – it might be football or it might be something else – engage them through that so they totally switched on to learning and wanting to do something.
A lot of our coaches have been on the course themselves and have been through the programme. They come from the communities where the kids live and they’ve been through it themselves. They are just the best role models ever. They can show the young people that you can make something of your life. It’s then that you can introduce things that are relevant and mix it in with the football – using football as a tool to get people into jobs.
Do you think football can help teach the skills that these young people need?
All the stuff that you see on the pitch is transferable. I’m always struck by the teamwork element. This is probably the most powerful part for us. You’ve got kids who are feeling like they’ve got to get out of bed in the morning because they’ll let the team down if they don’t play. You’ve got kids who are trying to get jobs and getting knockbacks, as you do in the world of work, but then share those things with the team and the team are right behind them.
It’s also things such as discipline on the pitch, which transfers to discipline in the classroom. All the great things about football you can draw out to get a real result. If you get a young person into a job at 16 it genuinely changes their life. If they’re out of work at 16, the wage scarring effect on their life is incredible. You are more likely to suffer mental health problems - all these things that can go wrong if you don’t get them into a job. So it’s literally life-changing and if you can use football to do that then it’s got to be a good thing.
How big a problem is youth unemployment?
I think it’s a huge problem. A lot of the time this ‘one million young people unemployed’ figure is bandied around and people get desensitised to it in their head. It’s actually one in five young people. In some areas it’s one in four young people. It’s a huge crisis.
Within that million there are obviously A-level students and graduates but the ones we’re working with are the people without any qualifications. What’s happening in an economy with no jobs is that there’s a massive downward pressure on those people without qualifications who would maybe have gone into entry level jobs that are now being taken by graduates.
For our guys, what we are trying to do is help them compete on a level playing field by giving them the skills – a great CV, interview experience, teaching them things like the importance of eye contact and putting yourself across well. So their heads are not on the floor, their heads are up. That’s what we’re doing, we’re turning out young people who can deal with this because the real lost generation are those kids from disadvantaged communities who are really struggling.
And there are a couple of success stories on the Street League board…
Both Alex Godfrey and Will Dudmish are amazing examples of how Street League can change your life. Will is working in Barclays which is just brilliant. Even better, the guy now comes back and delivers money-skills workshops to our academies.
It’s the same with Alex, who went on a trial with TM Lewin. We’d persuaded TM Lewin to take 10 of our people on a trial by telling them to just give them a chance because they were really motivated kids. I remember speaking to Alex at the time and he was finding it really difficult because he wasn’t getting paid. But he was making sure that he was the first person in there and the last person to leave. Of course, he got the job.
Street League continues to grow too…
We’ve grown considerably because the demand is huge and we’ve got something that works. For every five people who leave, two are going into jobs and two are going into training. What’s better than that is that they are sustaining those jobs beyond three to six months when a lot of young people get a job and then walk out the door the next day. That’s not good enough for us. We want them to stay in those jobs.
We know how to fund it through the public sector and through corporate donations so I think we can take that far and wide. We’re in 10 locations now. When I started in 2010 we were in three locations: London, Newcastle and Glasgow. We’re going to add another five locations this year, which post-recession is really good. The demand is there, we have the solution and there are a lot more young people out there we can work with.
To find out more about Street League, visit www.streetleague.co.uk or follow @Street_League on Twitter. If your business could offer a work placement to a Street League graduate contact firstname.lastname@example.org