Before taking part in a city-wide initiative linking 20 schools across Birmingham through sport, 13-year-old Ashaunti Mufchett says she only ever saw other young people from schools outside of hers as ‘the competition’.
But an initiative run by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust, in partnership with Commonwealth Games England, is taking a new approach to building social cohesion by bringing 11 to 13-year-olds together not to compete and win at sport, but to play, learn and connect with one another. It has focused on linking schools with children from diverse and segregated communities in Birmingham.
Birmingham Connect is being delivered with support from Inspire Activity Ltd, Culture Central and Birmingham Education Partnership. It is funded by Sport England and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as part of the Integrated Communities Innovation Fund (ICIF).
Ashaunti goes to Holyhead School in Handsworth and is now a Connector through the programme. Paired with Four Dwellings School, she says when she meets up with schools outside of her catchment area now, she doesn’t see her peers as competitors to beat, but friends.
She said: “What is different about Birmingham Connect is that we are learning through sport and not coming together to compete in like a netball tournament but to socialise and enjoy playing sport. We didn’t have the opportunity to mix before.”
“It has made me feel like we have developed a friendship instead of wanting to beat one another. It has brought us closer together.”
The schools have met several times over the last five months to try Commonwealth sports together and plan ideas to support a large-scale sporting festival next year building on the excitement of the city hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Ashaunti added: “I have always been really sporty, when I’m active and doing sport that is my comfort zone but being part of Birmingham Connect has made me more confident and helped me to develop my confidence to try new sports like boxing, yoga and gymnastics outside of what I would usually do.
“I’m now trying to find a boxing club nearby as I enjoyed it so much.”
Ashaunti is one of 100 young people to have received training through Birmingham Connect and is leading the project in her school. The programme has not only brought young people together but is also having a positive impact on teachers across Birmingham.
Cat Gill, Director of Learning – Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Holyhead, said: “It’s been great seeing all the children try different activities together and bringing together different faiths and backgrounds.
“They’re tried really alternative sports like boxing and yoga and that is something that these children just wouldn’t get the chance to try normally. The kids gel really well.
“It has been great for me as a teacher to meet other teachers through the project across the city and I have developed a great friendship with one of them through it. I think it helps for the kids to see how well us teachers get on and it has made us all collaborate together.
“We have become the best possible version of our school and formed some fantastic friendships.”
The Youth Sport Trust is currently supporting the Connect WITH phase of Birmingham Connect which sees the schools come together with their pairings to organise, lead and deliver four events of their choosing to provide opportunities for young people from their schools to social mix and integrate through sport. The events are also supported by Team England’s athletes including triple jumper Nathan Douglas.
For more information visit: https://teamengland.org/birmingham-connect.