‘It’s helped me stay out of trouble’: the charity that uses sport to rebuild the lives of young people

On a football pitch in Birmingham, 10 young people are playing a rather quiet game of five-a-side football. They’re trying to signal passes without shouting out, they’re paying close attention to each other’s cues. The game progresses remarkably well. The reason for the silence is that these young adults are playing football as part of a lesson in non-verbal communication as part of a Street League programme.

“Sport is the glue and the hook of all our programmes,” says Robyn McAllister, head of major giving at Street League, a national charity that uses sport to get people back into work, education or training. “It’s the hook that gets people in through the door in the first place and then it’s the glue that holds our programmes together.”

After the football match, the session will progress to looking at non-verbal communication in an interview. How to make eye contact, to shake hands, to present themselves with confidence. It might involve role-play where players pretend to be a sports star in an interview. “Pretending to be someone else takes that pressure off and makes them feel less exposed and vulnerable,” says McAllister. “Afterwards, they may feel confident to try again as themselves.”

Street League started as a football league for homeless young men but soon transitioned into a charity with a mission to end youth unemployment. It now runs 34 academies across England and Scotland that are improving opportunities for young people. About 45% of its funding comes from government contracts, while the rest is from fundraising. One of its major sources of funding is the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have supported the charity with £1.6m this year.

People’s Postcode Lottery raises money for charities such as Street League by selling monthly ticket subscriptions, and at least 33% of each ticket sold goes to charities and good causes, with more than £750m being raised by players since its inception.

Inspiring Scotland. Street League,
Street League members are able to access careers advice, work experience and apprenticeships. Photograph: Malcolm Cochrane Photography

In Scotland, Street League courses run in eight-week blocks, whereas in England they’re rolling programmes. Students who left school without key GCSEs can take a functional skills qualification and those looking to enter the construction industry can work towards a CSCS card. They also get careers advice, work experience and access to apprenticeships. The aim is for everyone to leave the programme with some form of qualification or skill.

“Joining Street League has kept me busy, which helped me stay out of trouble and allowed me to better myself,” says Nathan, who grew up in Halton Moor, a deprived area of Leeds. He had left school without any GCSEs in maths and English, had no work experience and arrived at the charity with very low confidence. “I never saw myself working a full-time job. I just liked the idea of being able to play football every day so I decided to give it a go.” However, alongside football, he was able to complete a level 2 qualification in maths and English and secure a full-time job working at British Heart Foundation’s eBay warehouse. Street League supplied Nathan with a phone, work clothes and a monthly bus pass in order for him to start work, and in May this year he got his first pay packet. “I’m so proud to be able to say I have a job as a warehouse operative,” says Nathan.

As a charity it’s important for Street League to be responsive to need, but many organisations that give grants require their funds to go to specified projects – People’s Postcode Lottery, however, doesn’t have this stipulation. That’s why the funding Street League receives is so vital to its work.

“The funding we get from People’s Postcode Lottery is not aligned to anything in particular,” says McAllister. “We can use it really flexibly. It’s also long-term support – this is our sixth year of funding from them – so they absolutely underpin what we deliver and enable us to be reactive and innovative. People’s Postcode Lottery understands what our young people need the most and gives us the opportunity to really meet that need.”

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have helped to raise £4.4m to support Street League’s work over the past six years, and being able to give support for charities is one of the reasons why some people play regularly – and, of course, it’s a joy when they win something themselves. Janet Langson won £30,000 in July when the postcode for her street in Charnock Richard, Lancashire, came up. She only started playing because she knew People’s Postcode Lottery gave to charity.

McAllister concludes: “People’s Postcode Lottery is just so embedded in Street League, they really understand what we do. When you think about how many charities they’re supporting, it’s quite incredible.”

Since 2005, People’s Postcode Lottery has raised more than £750m for charities and good causes. To find out more, visit postcodelottery.co.uk

People’s Postcode Lottery manages lotteries on behalf of charities who receive a minimum of 33% from each ticket sale.

Street League is a registered charity in England & Wales (1101313) and Scotland (SC038884). Funding awarded by Postcode Active Trust, a registered Scottish charity (SC044967).