20 April 2012, 10:51am
Bath Rugby players Matthew Banahan and Stephen Donald visited a Laureus project in the south west of England last week.
When a local comprehensive school was closed at the turn of the millennium, the deputy headmaster fought to save the site from the bulldozers and turn it into a focal point for the struggling Knowle community.
While much of The Park community centre, as it is now known, lies in a state of disrepair, with doors boarded up, plaster hanging off tired ceilings and graffiti littering the walls, it has become a beacon of hope for many of the young people who might otherwise face an uncertain and troubled future.
Stephen Donald admitted he has caught the Laureus bug. "I became aware of Laureus after attending the Awards and seeing what the organisation is looking to achieve, I was really interested in getting involved.
"Sport is undervalued as a tool to make lives better, especially for kids at risk, because it gives them something to focus on, it gives them pride and can make them happier about themselves.
"Fitzy (Laureus World Sports Academy Member Sean Fitzpatrick) is a legend back home and he is very involved with Laureus. I would love to do more and if I can help, I'll happily put my hands up."
James Mapstone is the Managing Director of the 2nd Chance project, which has been adopted by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation under its partners Urban Stars and the Active Communities Network.
James spent almost a decade as head of P.E. at Ashfield Prison before setting up the project four years ago to help young people who have been in trouble with the authorities and have had little optimism about their futures.
"The Park provides an invaluable service," says James. "Knowle is one of the most deprived areas in the UK and the people here have suffered because it doesn't have a secondary school.
"People around here are lacking opportunities. The young people here are at risk. They have sometimes had criminal sentences, have been excluded from school or been involved in anti-social behaviour and even see going into central Bristol as a day out, so when other projects have been built in new facilities, it's intimidating for them."
The project, which looks after around 200 young people a week on a range of programmes, uses sport, mainly football and basketball, to provide a sense of collaboration and commitment otherwise missing from their lives.
The plan is not only to help these young people, but to encourage them to engage others through social media to help the project grow and, in time, for them to become mentors and coaches to the next generation of young people who attend.
"Our reoffending rates are pretty good," adds James. "That is mainly down to sport because they channel their energies into being competitive."
While the young people may have felt that society had forgotten them, when Laureus arranged for two rugby union internationals to come and train with them just after Easter, the impact it had was palpable.
Matt Banahan saw how sport can change the moods of young people even over the space of a couple of hours. Matt observed: "When we arrived this morning, we were greeted with a room full of quiet teenagers and once we started playing sport with them, they showed their character. We saw them turn into young people who have every chance of getting opportunities and careers.
"This project is brilliant and gives the kids a chance to come out of their shells. Hopefully meeting us, they see that we're just normal people and it gives them something to aspire to."
The project plans to add street cricket, boxing and a skate park to engage an even wider audience of young people and help turn around the futures of Knowle youngsters who had forgotten what it was like to participate and believe.