fbpx Sport as a tool to keep young Londoners safe - London Youth

19 May 2023

A group of youth workers and young people in front of a banner



“Therapeutic work without it having that label…. You can do more in a football or snooker session than you can do in therapy”. 

On Friday 28th April, the third London Youth Sports Network took place at the House of Sport. During the event, we heard of lived experience on how sport and physical activity is used as a hook, to provide wider, holistic support to young people affected by violence.  



The network was led by an expert panel of youth workers and young people, including: 

  • Carol Archibald, Programmes Director at The Avenues Youth Project 
  • Jevonte, Youth Worker at The Avenues Youth Project 
  • Stephen Barnabis, Founder and CEO at Project Zero WF 
  • Javon, Sport Coordinator at Project Zero WF 
  • Paris Parchment, Programmes Officer & Health and Wellbeing Lead at BigKid Foundation 
  • Jochebad, Young Person at BigKid Foundation 

We were delighted to be joined by Lib Peck, Director of London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), who expressed the will to continue growing our partnership through events like this. Lib highlighted the role of sport in youth work to relieve the pressures young people are facing, especially obesity crisis and poor mental health in post pandemic climate.  

Youth clubs play a key role in forging positive relationships with young people, and giving them access to trusted adults, with sport developing key skills, such as teamwork and communication at the core of this. 

Discussions during the event focused on the impact of mentoring, volunteering and employment opportunities, and their social and emotional benefits, such as young people taking a positive pathway growing up, developing key transferable life skills and motivation to give back in their community, supporting the next generation. 

Attendees of the network

“Putting in my all on the field; even outside of the sport, I didn’t know how to channel anger, being in a new environment, expressing myself is important… keeping it pent up is not good… he mentored me and taught me.” Young person 

“Young people make me see so many more things in them, coaching young kids in sport is not just playing sports, it’s building communication and team skills… people underestimate the power of that”. Youth worker 

“Football has always been a passion for me, having it in my area was a distraction from getting led down the wrong path… I feel so grateful for The Avenues.” Young person 


The network saw five ‘share and learn groups’ debate a range of topics and offer practical and policy solutions. 

Community organisations connecting and collaborating with each other 

A key learning from this group was looking at taking away the element of competition from each other, by getting to know the organisations around you and seeking opportunities to work together. Organisations referred to Westminster and Brent Foundation, and how valuable it is that they bring together charities under one umbrella. It also highlighted the power that funders hold regarding this, but rarely bring together all the organisations they work with.  

The skills required for the workforce to use sport as a tool within their provision to keep young people safe 

A main driver of conversation was the importance of continuous need of development, training and support for youth workers. The phrase ‘therapists in tracksuits’ very much related to those in the room. When working with young people, a holistic approach is key to the support provided. It’s about the plus activities: mentoring, community engagement, physical and mental health and food and nutrition education.  

The group looked at what happens behind the scenes that allows the organisation to thrive. The things done away from young people – training in areas such as monitoring, evaluation and learning, policy and procedures and fundraising, are key to keeping the doors open. The discussion touched on the value of trustees who have youth work experience and who are aware of the everyday realities and experiences of youth work.  

In addition to this, the group spoke about the need for self-care and boundaries, both personal and professional. It was a shared experience for youth workers to work, what feels like 24/7, and how it’s hard to not get emotionally invested when you see these young people multiple times in a week. This signified how crucial it is to put boundaries and measures in place to maintain our mental health so we can show up as our best.  

Speaker presenting at the network

System Changes – who else do we need in the room to support our provision and why? 

Groups of people needed for system changes included: 

Funders: applications and delivery are based on what the funding criteria are. There appears to be little room for creativity, and so ideas are bound to the parameters set by the founders. Who is on the panel/board for funders? Who decides what projects look like and how the criteria is formed? It is key that people who are working on the ground, in the community, directly with young people, have a voice and can contribute to this. 

Government/Local Authorities: often people in council are not from the area, there is little investment in those with lived experience who can act as community advocates, these are the people who should be part of the decision-making process at all levels. 

“Councils don’t look in the pantry before they go shopping” Youth worker 

Local facilities/businesses: working with local facilities and private businesses such as schools and sports centres to make the most of facilities that are not used in the evenings/weekends This creates opportunities and ensures clubs are not forced to spend resources that they don’t have.  

We greatly welcomed the participation of Green Assembly Member, Caroline Russell in this discussion on system changes.  This was both in her capacity as a Councilor and Assembly member, and as incoming Chair to the City Hall Police and Crime Committee. Caroline is keen to see youth work in action and to amplify the voice of community advocates, she will be visiting one of the panel clubs shortly. 

Partnering with private businesses to support youth provision and the benefits of this 

There are many ways to work with private businesses outside of receiving funding. Opportunities can present themselves in many ways, such as organisational support, venue or minibus hire, work experience and career insight days. It’s important to build and maintain connections, as businesses are constantly growing and changing, and their support may also change because of this. 

‘We have an Opportunities Coordinator, and this has helped us to develop more connections with businesses from our local community.” Youth worker 


As London Youth, we will continue to upskill youth workers and support youth organisations to engage and impact young people affected by violence. We will keep advocating and highlighting the changes needed in the sector to ensure all young Londoners have access to opportunities through sports.  

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