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27 Jun 2022 | 13:13

The long-anticipated 2022 Commonwealth Games will commence on July 28th in Birmingham and, while attention will primarily focus on some of the world’s best sporting talent, the Games will also embrace the diversity and culture of the West Midlands region and highlight how sport is being used to strengthen local communities. 

This approach is exemplified by the United by 2022 official legacy charity which will seek to support projects and programmes in the region that work with disadvantaged or deprived communities and create more opportunities for young people. A community fund is being built and applications for grant funding will be invited later this year. In this article, reporter Arif Islam highlights a series of impactful sport for development projects which are operating across Birmingham and the West Midlands, and shows how the positive social outcomes they are generating align to the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework. 

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Rackets Cubed 

The charity’s core aim is to deliver an integrated sport, education and nutrition programme to support children from low socio-economic backgrounds across the Midlands. Evidence suggests that more physically active children show improvements in academic achievement, and Rackets Cubed believe racket sports are particularly effective. Nationally the programme supports children aged eight to 11 at 15 sites across seven cities. More than 50% of participants are eligible for school free meals, with 55% girls and 80% from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Rackets Cubed facilitate free access, court time and teaching with the programme running for a year, and focusing on STEM subjects alongside sports coaching and a healthy nutritious meal.

Founder and Chair Michael Hill explained: “Sport is a brilliant way for communities to integrate. Anyone can play social badminton it doesn’t matter what your background is.” He added: “The Commonwealth Games are a visible example of that; you get elite role models who are important for kids. If you see someone like you succeeding, kids will more likely participate and the Games are a great showcase.” 

#OpenGoal outcome: Closing the gap in education & development 

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Sport 4 Life UK 

The charity helps young people aged 11 to 29 to prepare for, and move into sustained education, employment or training. It improves their employability and life skills through sports-themed mentoring and training services, and improves health and wellbeing through weekly sports sessions. The programme supports young people across Birmingham and the wider area who are not in education, training, or employment, with the majority coming from from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds and lower socio-economic areas. Each young person is assigned an employability mentor to support their progress. 

Founder and CEO Tom Clarke-Forrest explained: "We believe in the power of sport. We use it as a vehicle to engage young people, as a conduit to improve physical health and mental wellbeing, and as a tool to transform key life skills. When our young people are fitter, feel better and have developed key skills - they're in a better place for learning, and they're more employable." He added: "Sport will be at the heart of this summer's Commonwealth Games in our home region. The Games offer real opportunities for young people - to be inspired to get active, to volunteer, to work, and to join clubs. And after the Games, the legacy can enable a generation to access new facilities and infrastructure and benefit from investment into the region and the community engagement programme. The equality on the field - with the largest fully integrated para-sport programme for any Commonwealth Games and with more medals being awarded to women than men - needs to translate off the field, acting as a catalyst for change." 

#OpenGoal outcome: Increased employability & skills  

 

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Dream Big Desi Women

The Dream Big Desi Women project aims to inspire South Asian and minority ethnic women to make a difference in their local community by helping children experience cricket through the ECB’s national programme. The primary goal is to connect diverse communities in Birmingham by taking community-led cricket programmes directly to non-traditional environments such as faith and community centres, in order to increase representation. The project’s 2000-plus female activators benefit from various opportunities such as mental health first aid training, basic first aid, and umpiring and cricket coaching qualifications. It provides a platform for women to upskill, improve their health and make a positive impact.

Sifaya Ikbal, who was a City Programme Executive for Dream Big Desi Women, explained: “The main outcome of the programme is to make women feel comfortable and safe to explore different options in sport. Its aim is to help women from minority ethnic groups overcome social barriers and have the necessary support to play the game. All the ECB-branded activator kit is loose and inclusive for women of different faiths.” She added: “The Commonwealth Games are important in bringing the community together in Birmingham, particularly after the Covid-19 pandemic. Long term it is important to strengthen the sustainability of the Games, for example changing the culture and putting sport first for those who traditionally could not see a career in sport, such as women from ethnically diverse backgrounds. It’s about creating that lifestyle change both mentally and physically.” 

#OpenGoal outcome: Stronger communities & social cohesion

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Here for Sport: Rowing Programme

Here for Sport aims to improve inclusion and the participation of marginalised groups within sport. In particular, the organisation has collaborated with Loughborough University London and Stonewall to research the experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals, and the LGBTQ+ community. Its flagship project is an indoor rowing programme in Coventry, working with London Youth Rowing and local schools within the area to ensure a new generation have access to the sport. The aim is to create a unique PE curriculum to be implemented within the city, using rowing as a tool for development. Here for Sport are also working on new research focused on the effects of regional and economic deprivation on young people’s participation in sport. 

Founder and CEO Sam Winton explained: “Rowing is a sport which is looking for change, it is looking to address issues concerning diversity and inclusion. It’s also often called the greatest team-building sport because everyone on the boat must be moving in sync at all times. That is one of the many positives rowing can provide to a community.” He added: “The Midlands have been neglected for a long time and because of that there are massive parts of the population who are not getting opportunities. It is important that the Commonwealth Games not only bring attention to Birmingham but the region as a whole. This will give the region opportunities it would not have otherwise, with rowing being a great example.” 

#OpenGoal outcome: Stronger communities & social cohesion  

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Saathi House Cycling Project 

Saathi House supports women to drive positive change in their lives and local communities through a cycling project in north Birmingham. The project is open to all in a number of communities with strong South Asian ties and where women are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. ‘Saathi’ means friendly companion, and reflects the ethos of the centre, a place where local people meet. The project is also an opportunity to explore and celebrate their communities and bring people together. The main goal is about health, wellbeing and celebrating north Birmingham’s heritage. Office Manager / Health & wellbeing Co-ordinator Meena Bibi explained: “At Saathi House we have a mixed generation of women from 19 to 70 years old. We create an environment where everyone is equal and feels like they can be heard. I hope to empower women, give them confidence, improve mental health and wellbeing. Because of the lockdown, many people were left isolated, some lost close family during Covid. Within south Asian communities there is higher chances of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. So it is important to encourage walking, exercise, and healthier diets.” 

Meena added: “The Commonwealth Games have committed to creating over 4000 jobs in Birmingham during the Games. After the Games, 950 jobs will still be available for the local community. In addition, we will be allowed to take our women to the Alexander Stadium and use the facilities for exercise so it will not be going to waste.” 

#OpenGoal outcome: Stronger communities & social cohesion  

Read more about United by 2022 legacy charity.