Written by Emma Binnersley, Yorkshire Sport Foundation
Young People Forward Project - what we have learnt in Yorkshire.
The crisis of inequality and homelessness that young people in England are facing is nothing new. However, the fall-out of COVID-19 has made the emergency even more severe. As a result, homelessness and risk of homelessness is an even bigger challenge affecting young people in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. Covid-19 has significantly impacted on physical and mental health, finances and support systems in place and will continue to do so.
The Young People Forward project aimed to use a sport for development approach to improve physical and mental health, self-efficacy and resilience of young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. The project was launched in October 2020 and comes to an end this September 2021. Additional Active Partnerships were also involved in delivering local programmes.
At Yorkshire Sport Foundation, Young People Forward introduced an exciting opportunity to work directly with the homelessness sector. With limited experience previously working with homelessness charities and organisations the project encouraged us to make new contacts in the network and facilitate positive steps to introduce sport and physical activity as a catalyst for positive change amongst young people.
Despite a turbulent start to the project with restrictions posing countless delays, a number of connections were made with organisations who went on to drive impactful programmes throughout 2021. These organisations included The Running Charity, Roundabout, the Refugee Council and Centrepoint as well as others. Although slow to start, the question we always asked ourselves was is it the right time?
Are we OK to admit that our project is behind? Are we patient enough to know that the project would come through and we can pull it back? We decided the answer to both of those was yes. With us having to form new relationships, it just didn’t feel appropriate to rush projects for the sake of sticking to a timeline.
We were lucky enough that the national project was patient and understood the delays and trusted our judgement that we can make a success of the project when the time was right.
The next question posed once discussions had started with homelessness organisations was “what is our role in developing local projects?”
Yorkshire Sport Foundation recognises the value of place-based and strengths-based work and as a result took a trusting approach to each project understanding where the expertise lies. Striking the right balance was essential in ensuring funded projects understood they had the autonomy to make localised decisions whilst still remaining committed to the national project’s outcomes.
What’s the key to building these relationships? Each stakeholder is different and it is by all means a case by case basis. During Covid-19 although we faced many challenges, it felt the situation brought people together who has shared passions for initiating change. How can we continue this approach into the post-pandemic world?
Now with the project drawing to a close we look towards the future. A clear pattern that has emerged is how although the homelessness sector understands the benefits of sport and physical activity, many aren’t structured in a way to facilitate in-depth work to take place.
We found there are few organisations in the sector who have someone employed to work specifically on physical activity and wellbeing. Therefore, how do we demonstrate the importance of sport and physical activity and encourage its intergration into the homelessness sector?
How as a network can we initiate a system change to influence more homelessness organisations to recognise the impact of sport and physical activity by employing someone specifically for that purpose? This is where our role as Active Partnerships goes beyond short-lived funded projects and more towards a connecting and influencing role in the homelessness sector. We can use projects such as Young People Forward to build a foundation of knowledge and partners to influence work at a strategic level and encourage system change where it is necessary.