A ground-breaking report on the value of community sport in low-income neighbourhoods, involving significant input from Brunel University London's Prof Louise Mansfield, was launched in Parliament late last month.
On 25 October, the Chiles Webster Batson Commission shared the report and recommendations at a reception in the House of Lords. The Commission is chaired by broadcasters Adrian Chiles and Charlie Webster, along with former footballer Brendan Batson OBE. It was set up to explore the important role local community organisations have in providing community sport to low-income neighbourhoods in England and Wales and supporting young people and their communities to improve their life chances. The focus was on understanding and amplifying the experiences of children, young people, and the neighbourhood organisations that support them.
Combining rigorous academic evidence from experts including Professor Louise Mansfield, and in-depth conversations with community organisations themselves, the Chiles Webster Batson Commission’s Summative Report includes a number of key recommendations. These include working towards a funding model that provides long-term consistent resources for community sports organisations, and recognising these organisations as valuable community assets that can be trusted to deliver real change for young people in low-income neighbourhoods.
Prof Mansfield’s evidence review contributed to The Commission’s findings that community sport has a demonstrable impact on addressing issues of health and wellbeing particularly for young people. The Commission calls on policy makers to do more to ensure that community sport is given greater recognition and support within the wider sporting landscape.
Louise, an expert in Sport, Health and Social Sciences at Brunel, provided evidence to the Commission in the form of a review of the literature on community sport, health and wellbeing. This review of papers and reports written by academics and practitioners in this field, including those published by Louise herself, was circulated to the members of Commission's roundtable on health and wellbeing, and referenced throughout the roundtable’s report.
"What came through strongly in my evidence review is that, particularly for people in low-income neighbourhoods, participating in sport in community spaces can create feelings of belonging, community, contentment and escape," said Louise, who is also the Vice-Dean of Research for Brunel's College of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences.
Louise’s research projects over the past 15 years have included developing and designing community sports activities in partnership with local people in the socially diverse communities and understanding the role of cultural programmes including sport and the arts on public health and wellbeing. She is known for producing evidence to inform policy.
"The Commission's report shows how important community sport is for developing cohesive, healthy communities and improving everyone's life chances," she added. "It's now the time to take action and put the report's recommendations into practice."
Speaking about the positive role sport had in her own life, Commission Co-Chair Charlie Webster said: “I come from the same background as a lot of the kids in these community groups. My mum had me as a teenager and I didn’t have much, or anything really. I know how important it is to have that positive engagement through physical activity and sport. At the age of 11, I started running and that was my escape – for my mental health, and from family trauma.
“Sport helped me with my self-esteem and my identity and helped me to realise that I could achieve something. So, for me, this could be the difference in someone achieving their potential. Often what young people need is very little; it doesn’t have to be a facility; it can just be someone taking an interest and believing in them. These youth and community groups give the message that young people matter.”
Adrian Chiles said: “Kids need a place in their lives where they can feel safe to be themselves and have fun in a safe environment. That’s what these organisations provide. I’ve been astounded by the work these organisations are doing; they’re not much short of a lifeline to so many families.
These clubs operate on a shoestring at the best of times, so they really are imperilled at the moment. Many of them, starved of the small amount of funding they need, are going under. It’s plainly a false economy to let them go. Without them the kids who did have somewhere to go, will have nowhere to go. And that won’t end well. The costs to society further down the line, in terms of mental health issues and crime and so on, will be far greater than the paltry sums needed to keep them going.”
Brendon Batson OBE said: “This commission has shone a light on the value that trusted community sports organisations bring to local communities, but too often they are working with one hand tied behind their back. With all the challenges young people today are facing, we need these organisations more than ever and we need to do more to give them the support they need.”
Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations
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