A school and community initiative to help more young people in Barking and Dagenham to have opportunities for life and feel a sense of belonging through sport has picked up a prestigious award during the Youth Sport Trust’s 2023 Awards.
Eugene Dwaah, CEO of Evolution Sports Group, and Neil Kersey, Community Manager at Barking Rugby Club, were presented with the UK children’s charity’s Outstanding Contribution to the Community Award during a ceremony in Telford on 1 March.
The award recognises those who have harnessed the power of PE, sport and play to deliver targeted interventions which bring people and communities together.
Eugene and Neil felt too many young people at risk of school exclusion were missing out on careers they could love due to needing targeted support, and a lack of facilities and access to existing clubs across the borough had left them with poor opportunities to participate. Together, Eugene and Neil joined forces to gather support from schools, sports clubs and local authorities to embark on a new alternative provision pilot which placed PE and sport at the heart of education.
Ali Oliver MBE, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said:
”The Youth Sport Trust would like to congratulate Eugene and Neil, the winners of our Outstanding Contribution to the Community Award. They have demonstrated a huge commitment to the important role of PE, play and sport in improving young people’s mental health.
“This generation is moving less, spending more time online and has experienced major changes in their lives following the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of this, increased social inequality amplified by the cost-of-living crisis are creating a ripple effect on their school and home life. It is thanks to changemakers like Eugene and Neil that children will grow up healthier and happier.”
The Youth Sport Trust Annual Awards dinner was themed around ‘A year of Changemakers’ following the success of the Lionesses and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games heroes who helped to inspire a generation and movement across grassroots sport. It took place at the Telford International Centre. A total of eight awards were presented by host, TV personality and author Radzi Chinyanganya.
On receiving the award, Eugene said:
“It has been a real team and community effort to work together to identify the kids who need it most to have the best life chances. Having started playing sport at a young age myself, I was an exceptional sportsman and able to play for a number of professional sports clubs, but I also found myself running into difficulties in my youth following traumatic experiences which could have changed my whole life. My sports and PE teachers were really influential in changing my life at this time and its why I’ve always had a passion for sports and understand its potential to change lives.”
Eugene previously worked as a head of behaviour and engagement in an inner-city school and was regularly tasked with excluding young people alongside being responsible for visiting them in alternative provision settings.
He added: “Some of the exclusions I saw I wasn’t happy with and thought it limited those young people’s life chances, so when I set out on this initiative I wanted to work through sports and in alternative provision to help young people who had an interest in sports. Our programme been really successful, we have a fantastic community in existence at Barking Rugby Club and that has given us stability and the foundation to start up the project in a sporting arena, everyone involved has been really engaged. The local authority thoroughly bought into the concept and the head teachers we work with have been great in connecting us to the young people who need our support most.”
Neil Kersey, said: “The partnership formed between Evolution Sports and Barking Rugby Clubs seeks to deliver against the power of sport to engage young people and deliver against all the things we know can be achieved through engagement; self-esteem, participation, the feeling of belonging and particularly in this area getting them off the street and allowing them a safe area in which to learn. The Youth Sport Trust have been amazing in believing in the Rugby club and providing resources and know how. The young people we work with are unrecognisable from the young people originally referred by head teachers and that’s a testament to all the people who support the programme.”
The wider Youth Sport Trust 2023 Conference takes place in Telford today (2 March) with hundreds of headteachers, school sport professionals and businesses in attendance. The event will see Dr Alex George, former A&E now TV doctor and Youth Mental Health Ambassador for 10 Downing Street, and author of ‘A Better Day’ give an opening address alongside other high-profile speakers including a virtual address from the Secretary of State for Education, Nick Gibb MP.
Attendees will also have the chance to network, make new connections, and take part in workshops. For more information please visit www.youthsporttrust.org/conference-2023