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Wisdom Wednesdays: Supporting young people with positive alternatives to crime using sports

In today’s blog, we discuss the importance of giving young people positive alternatives to crime using sports-based activities. With insight from Paul Knight, Project Manager in Catch22’s Suffolk Positive Futures Service, we talk about the importance of emotional wellbeing for young people at risk of crime.

23 March 2022

Hi Paul, can you tell us a bit about your role and service?

For the past 16 years, my role has been to manage the Suffolk Positive Futures project. Our project is designed to offer young people a positive alternative to crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB) by providing them with a safe space.  

Our work is focused on the communities across Suffolk – we use parks, sports centres and community spaces to deliver free sporting activities at the times when the young people need them the most. We work with school groups and pupil referral units where we use sport activities and sports-based qualifications as part of the student’s alternative curriculum to try and improve their attainment.

A key area of my role is seeking and securing funding for the project to ensure its continuation as a varied programme to the people of Suffolk. I manage a sessional staff team of around 20 sport coaches, and I’m ably supported by my long-term colleague Mike Chaplin, Project Coordinator.

Each year we work with approximately 1,200 young people and generate 15,000 project attendances, so always plenty going on!

Why is emotional wellbeing so important for young people at risk of crime?

We find that young people with good mental health and emotional wellbeing often feel happier and more positive about themselves. They enjoy life and have healthier relationships with family and friends.

In the Suffolk Positive Futures project, we try to provide an environment which supports development and emotional wellbeing by creating a setting which is safe and welcoming for young people. But also provides an opportunity to burn off some energies and frustrations in a safe way.

We feel that this goes a long way in supporting the young person to make good life choices such as choosing leadership and positive community activities instead of crime.

How important is it that young people have a place like the Suffolk Positive Futures service?

It is massively important. For some of the young people on the project, it is one of the very few consistencies in their lives. The project in its most basic form offers a safe place for young people to go, a place they will be listened to and a place where they know they can just be themselves.

The service provides young people the opportunity to burn off some energies and frustrations in a controlled manner. It allows new friendships groups to be formed, it promotes respect and encourages communication and teamwork. For some, it introduces them into the concept of volunteering, for others it’s just a chance to meet up with friends and play some football or do some boxing. The project also gives young people an opportunity to represent their local area at events, giving them a sense of pride and belonging which some haven’t experienced before.

What is your favourite aspect of working in the service?

My favourite aspect in working for a service like Suffolk Positive Futures is the variation of my tasks. One minute, I’m sitting at my desk responding to emails or doing reports and then the next minute I’m running around the football pitch (or at least trying to) with a group of young people. No two days are ever quite the same and it’s this range of daily tasks that keep me energised.

Due to how I long I’ve worked in the service, some of the young people aren’t so young anymore. Sometimes, I’ll be in a shop or in the street and people will say “I remember you from Positive Futures.” It happened recently on the phone as the person recognised my name. He told me that him and his mates used to love coming to our sessions growing up as a kid, which is always nice to hear.


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