TSB Community Partner Award winner Streetsport helps Aberdeen’s youth achieve their goals

22 November 2018 | Scotland

Mobile sport initiative Streetsport wins a Pride of Sport Award for its remarkable work engaging young people and combatting crime.

When a group of 12-year-old girls from Aberdeen’s Torry area first played football with Streetsport, they never dreamed the journey would lead to them beating Liverpool and Arsenal in a national tournament.

It’s a story that could have come straight from a feelgood movie, but it sums up what the Scottish initiative, which was set up in 2006, is all about – turning kids’ lives around.

The simple Streetsport premise sees vans packed with sporting equipment turn up at various locations around Aberdeen. Volunteers then set up pop-up pitches to get local youths involved in activities that steer them away from crime. The idea was to combat the vandalism that had been plaguing the city.

Its results – particularly in the last year – have been so extraordinary that Streetsport has been recognised with a TSB Community Partner Award at the Pride of Sport Awards.

“The difference in the community is tangible,” says Mark Williams, who runs the project. “One of our participants said to me this summer, ‘Normally these kids are fighting each other, but because of Streetsport, they’re playing together.’ To me that means we are doing something right. The free activities for young people across Aberdeen engage them in positive experiences.”

And these positive experiences know no limits. “We sent a girls’ and a boys’ team to the UK Cruyff Court football finals in Liverpool in July this year,” says a clearly proud Mark. “Our girls’ team of 12-year-olds, who were from Torry, beat Liverpool and Arsenal. That is something no one will ever take away from those girls. “Some hadn’t even been out of Scotland before, but they got to represent Aberdeen. These are kids who would never have dreamed of something like this happening and it just shows what can be achieved by getting involved in the community at a simple, local level with sport.”

Streetsport grew out of a request from Police Scotland, who approached Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU), desperate for ideas on how to counter a huge spike in youth antisocial behaviour in the city.

From one van visiting a few hot spots, the operation grew until in 2013, the Denis Law Legacy Trust, which was looking for something that would make a noticeable difference to communities and inspire local young people, took over Streetsport, opening doors to further funding and awareness.

The team are now on course to have had around 16,000 participations this year by the end of December 2017.

“We receive what are called ‘storm reports’ every quarter from the police and the fire service,” says Mark, a father of two children himself. “They track all the phone calls to emergency services across Aberdeen.

“Once we get a large amount of phone calls in any specific area, we treat it as a hot spot and that’s where Streetsport deploys – right to the heart of where it’s needed the most.”

Streetsport Mark Williams

Currently carrying out 15 sessions per week across seven different areas of Aberdeen between 7pm and 10 pm, Streetsport brings along sporting equipment for almost every occasion in its vans, including mobile sports arenas, which can be set up with floodlights in a matter of moments.

The kids can dance, sing, play football, basketball, hockey and almost any other sport imaginable.

“Driven by volunteers, our vans go to the hot-spot location and set up a mobile sports arena,” says Mark, 38. “Our team jumps out, sets it up, turns the floodlights on and we have an instant playing area right in the heart of the community.

“The two biggest barriers to kids participating in sports are cost and travel,” he adds. “We go to them so they don’t have to travel, and everything we do is free of charge so they don’t have to pay anything.”

Kiloh, now a Streetsport youth volunteer, says, “I’m so grateful. It helps me stop being lazy and gives me something to do on a Wednesday night. It’s good fun.”

Scratch beneath the surface and it’s clear that Streetsport is about far more than just playing games with bored children.

It has had a huge impact on the communities in which it deploys, driving down crime figures and giving the youngsters the kind of support that many of them lack at home.

Statistics from Aberdeen’s Community Safety Hub – a team made up of the police, fire brigade, NHS and local council set up to combat antisocial behaviour – show the results have been amazing.

Antisocial behaviour is down by 44 per cent on average in every area of Aberdeen that Streetsport visits, while some areas have had a decrease of up to 80 per cent.

“Streetsport was the hook,” says Jason Carrigan of Police Scotland. “We wanted to find a way to divert these groups of young people into something more positive.

“And it’s not just the young people who are benefiting, it’s the community themselves. They’re seeing a reduction in antisocial behaviour and vandalism.”

In 2016, Police Scotland launched Operation Smallwood to combat youth crime in Torry and asked Streetsport to help again.

 “We really upped our game in the area,” says Mark. “And as our attendance numbers went up, the police and firemen started attending the sessions, too.

“If it was a quiet night, they’d get involved with the games and play against the kids. They started to break down barriers, and that was really helpful in preventing crime.

“Normally if the police came around the corner, the kids would run, but now they know that the police are coming to play football with them and they like it.”

On fireworks night that year – a night notorious for youths starting fires – there was a 72 per cent reduction in calls to the fire brigade.

Targeting primarily 8 to 16-year-olds, Streetsport first connects with the youngsters through sport, then uses that connection to channel their energies into education and employment.

Much of this is down to the 60 or so volunteers who are so vital to the charity.

The volunteers are a mixture of students from RGU and locals who have got involved either via word of mouth, or because they’ve come up through Streetsport itself.

“We have a really nice mix,” says Mark. “Students from the university, but also people from the local areas who want to do their bit.

“Once they are over 16, we will upskill them and start to put them through a couple of basic coaching courses, as well as any other studying they want to do to get on their CV.

“We have a number of people who have gone from being a participant, to a volunteer to a trained and paid coach.

“This is our exit strategy. We target young kids who have that spark and bit of aspiration to do a bit different than the rest of their friends, then we try to give them as much support as we can, as these are the kids who will have a ripple effect in their communities.”

Streetsport Trustee and proud Aberdeen native David Suttie explains that the initiative can also introduce roles models. “Lot’s of these kids are coming from homes where one parent might be in prison, or there are problems with drugs,” he says. “They don’t have role models within their own communities and hopefully we can provide that.

“We’re trying to turn difficult kids into good kids, who become volunteers for us in due course, and instead of tearing areas of the city apart, they actually help to look after it and give back to it.”

With a Pride of Sport Award tucked under its belt, Streetsport will continue to grow, says Mark. “It’s huge to win this award. To be recognised in this way and at this level – especially for all our amazing volunteers – is just incredible. What a feeling. This is a great platform to build on for next year.”

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