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Saving Children With The Beautiful Game

Nelson Mandela once said that ‘sports has the power to change the world,’ an inspiring line from a truly inspiring person, and a guiding mantra for Tom Clarke-Forrest . Tom is co-founder and Chief Executive of Sport4Life, a Birmingham based charity that use sports to inspire positive change in kids who need saving.

Tom is also our Sports category judge for the Everyday Heroes competition. Do you know an Everyday Hero worthy of jetting off abroad for free? Nominate them here and they could win two free tickets to any destination of their choice.

We spoke to Tom to gain an insight into the world of sports volunteering and how it has changed young people’s lives for the better. Last year alone, 4,000 young people were reached out to by Sport4Life, with the Charity going through major development strides to help more and more young people lead decent, fulfilling lives across Birmingham.

Last year for example, Tom’s charity helped a young 25 year old gain employment after being homelessness. James Perrott was initially referred to Sport4Life by Job Centre Plus as part of the Flexible Fund initiative and joined Sport4Life’s personal development and employability program.

After receiving mentoring from the charity, James achieved a Sports Leaders UK Level 1 (QCF) Award in Sports and now has a full time job. As James states: “I feel more independent and now have a solid foundations and a brighter outlook on my future.”

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Hi Tom, what makes a sporting volunteer hero?
For me, a sporting volunteer hero is many things – adaptable, friendly, approachable, reliable and inspiring. But most of all, it’s about being selfless – it’s not about them, it’s about the participants and recognising their needs and looking for ways to meet those needs whatever it takes.

What inspired you to co-found Sport4Life?
I co-founded Sport 4 Life with my brother back in 2006. We both played a lot of sport throughout our childhood and teenage years and really believed in its power for social good. Combined with this was a passion for Birmingham – our home city where there was a real need in inner-city areas, and a desire to set up our own enterprise.

If you could pick a defining moment as director of Sport4Life, what would it be?
In 2011, we had a significant strategic change. We became a youth charity that uses sport as opposed to a sport charity exclusively. The needs of our young people became a greater priority in a youth-led and bottom-up approach. Our vision became clear: to create a better future for disadvantaged young people.

Our programme of activities became more targeted and we aimed to achieve harder and more tangible outcomes – gaining qualifications, re-engaged with employment, reducing offending and improving self-esteem. The legacy of this strategic move is still at the core of what we do and has contributed to our significant growth over the last 3 years.

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Why use sports as a method to get young people back into work?
Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Sport is also a great hook and engagement tool to target young people most in need – to then go on and achieve something tangible (even if it’s not in sport!).

What can everyday people do to make a big difference to people in need?
No role is too small in sports volunteering and everyone can play a part – from setting up equipment, taking a register, picking up cones, completing an evaluation form to directly delivering a session. So, if you’re interested in getting involved in your local club or charity, pay them a visit or drop them a line – they may want you more than you realise. Other ways of supporting include donating, clerical support (if you have something to offer), engagement on social media or fundraising on their behalf.

What are your favourite organisations in the UK that are fighting the good fight?
A tough question! There are so many I could list, but in our sector specifically, I love the work of Street League and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.

What are your future ambitions for Sport4Life?
In line with our 5 year business plan, we aim to continue the growth of the charity across Birmingham. We will double the number of programmes we deliver and more than double the number of young people we engage. We still have a lot to improve on, but we think we’ve got the ambition and drive to make it happen!

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