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1 Jul 2023 | 17:17

One of the key outcomes of the Sport for Development Coalition’s Open Goal framework is ‘Stronger communities and social cohesion’. A prime example of how Coalition partners are working together to support this is the ‘Breaking Boundaries’ project which over the last four years has aimed to socially connect young people, their families and communities together through regular cricket and multi-sport themed engagement, fostering mutual respect and friendships by playing, spectating and volunteering. Funded by Spirit of 2012, it has been led by the Youth Sport Trust in partnership with Sporting Equals and a consortium of organisations including cricket trusts and foundations, local authorities and community groups. Here we speak to Jennie Jordan, Development Manager – Innovation at Youth Sport Trust, about the project.

Hi Jennie. Thanks for speaking to the Coalition. Can you provide a brief oversight of the Breaking Boundaries project? 

The purpose of Breaking Boundaries was to increase social mixing between target communities using cricket and multi-sport as a tool to inspire, engage and reduce tensions/parallel lives. The project, which ran between 2018 and 2022, was delivered with community groups and city cohesion and integration teams in five cities: Bradford, Birmingham, London (Barking and Dagenham), Manchester and Slough. The programme proved regular activity sessions, training  support and provided platforms for young people to have their voice heard, bringing different communities together. 

Can you give some more specific examples of how these inequalities were targeted and addressed? 

Breaking Boundaries sought to foster improved social connectedness and attitudes to diversity by deliberately facilitating social mixing between community groups through the activities it ran. This developed shared group ethos around exploring differences and commonalities between groups which meant participants developed a better understanding of each other. 

Examples include: 

  • Barking and Dagenham: Ran a 10-week-long archery session for young people and their families from Al Madina Mosque and the Hive (a community group) in Barking. There was a mix of people from Black African and Pakistani backgrounds together. The sessions gave a chance for both groups to not only take part in sports but have key discussions with one another about their backgrounds and give them a chance to talk about some of the similarities between their beliefs. Al Madina also led 'Community Champion' training in archery and social integration workshops so the connection and delivery could continue beyond Breaking Boundaries. 
  • Birmingham: Pakistani and Bangladeshi Women attended a 12-week programme of Bhangra Dancing, which allowed them to socialise and make new friends. The environment was friendly and supportive using local coaches and providers. The women proudly shared and learned with no judgment or correction despite different beliefs. The aim of the sessions was to bring together women from different backgrounds, where there is historically tension and no opportunity to mix (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi). Each session included a dance class followed by the opportunity to socialise, improving attitudes to diversity and generating a safe space for women, emphasising a sense of belonging and improving attitudes to diversity. 
  • Bradford: Two prominent community groups within the same ward (Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups) who do not usually mix, and live parallel lives, joined together to play in a friendly interfaith cricket festival held at a neutral ground, Park Avenue during a cricket festival week. The social event involved children and young people from both community groups coming together and participating in cricket activities during the morning followed by the interfaith cricket match. The social event helped change some negative perceptions and attitudes to local issues that were contributing to some tensions between the two groups. It allowed the community voice to come together and organise an intercultural event which overcame the local tensions between the Bangladeshi and Pakistani community groups.  
  • Manchester: Sri Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara Educational & Cultural Centre (Sikh) and Gita Bhavan Hindu Temple (Hindu) came together to hold weekly football sessions. The groups that partook in the programme have learned about each other’s cultures, faiths and beliefs. A community partner stated: "Since we've linked up and started collaborating and working together, I think we've opened up different markets or different demographics that we probably might not have worked with in the past.”
  • Slough: This project created some great interventions around joining previously divergent community groups. The Roma Community have experienced prejudices from across Slough from native White British and new-native South Asian population. To address this, sessions were scheduled by Chalvey 360, a group representing the Roma community and Paving the Way representing the Pakistani community, to bring the two groups together. They jointly planned physical activity sessions, shared food and had over 50 regular attendees keen to develop friendships. Fernando and Isa, from C360 (Roma) and Paving the Way (Pakistani) respectively, met each other on a few occasions but never really communicated without prompts or ice-breaker activities. However these sessions enabled them to build confidence to have lunch together with no ‘outside support or prompts’ and it was fantastic to see two young males talking about sport, cracking jokes and getting to know each other. 

Some of the stakeholders and participants in the report talk about an ‘increase in trust’ and ‘strong rapport’ which has led to continued work together after the project ended. How do we measure and report the value of that cohesion, in terms which can lead to more support?

At the start of the project, we held consultation workshops with each local authority team and local partners and community groups. The baseline indicated a lack of trust between groups, poor relationships and the community feeling their voice was not heard or acted upon. By the end of the programme, we saw significant changes in attitudes, behaviours, and perceptions. Trust was built through open discussions, sharing lived experiences and positive action being taken, both through the local authority and empowering community groups to take decisions. Partnership working increased through co-production of activities and connecting to wider funding streams, services and building into communities to add value and support engagement. Building on current provision, not creating new unless needed was a key lesson here to strengthen assets. 

Examples include: 

  • A continuation of connecting organisations through local forums, networks, events and communication.
  • Distribution of funding opportunities and linkage with local funding forums to provide support around future funding for community organisations engaged by the programme.
  • Training offers to support funding bids and further development of skills in work around community cohesion.
  • Links to cohesion strategy teams brokered for community partners. 

There are however some specific activities in some locations - notably Birmingham, Manchester and Slough - which offer some useful approaches for sustaining the community connections that Breaking Boundaries has been able to take forward. Thus, in Birmingham community partners have been linked to volunteering opportunities at Edgbaston stadium as a way of ensuring continued engagement of Community Champions. Slough have also made links to the volunteering hub to also provide access to available opportunities for these young people, and learning from Breaking Boundaries was used to support the drafting of the first specific sport and physical activity cohesion strategy.


In Manchester, access to holiday programme opportunities has been brokered for community partners leading to three new organisations being added to the programme, accessing additional funding and training 14 young people as paid coaches. A community co-ordinator in the city commented: "I think there's definitely been an increase in trust between the community groups that we're working with at the moment and ourselves. A lot of these groups are sort of hard-to-reach groups. We've built a real strong rapport with some of these groups, to the point where we know we've got their trust now, and some of these groups are continuing to work with us on a local level."

Some of the activities led to a ‘break down in tensions between schools and postcodes’. How could important outcomes like this support other areas of the #OpenGoal framework? 

As the programme progressed community groups and partners thought more readily about local tensions and where cohesion issues needed addressing, for example littering, parking wars, anti-social behaviour, gang culture, loneliness and wellbeing. Then how it could be facilitated, translating into specific activities to increase social connectedness, using sport as the tool. Having two groups working together and delivering the activity, ensured a shared ethos, with participants working together to explore difference and commonalities to build connection between previously disparate groups. Through this they have a better understanding of each other and develop better attitudes to diversity as a result.

The fact it was being brokered through trusted community organisations was also key, because these groups were trusted by participants. For instance, in Slough a homelessness agency linked up with Aik Saath young volunteers in partnership working with Slough Outreach, AWBS International Women’s Club and Breaking Boundaries Community Champions. This provided Christmas meals for local people experiencing homelessness through a relationship established through the physical activity set up by Breaking Boundaries that these participants had previously been involved in. The Slough Youth Offending Team teamed up with other community groups to deliver activities that developed a stronger sense of belonging for the young people they were working with, to encourage them to move away from criminal behaviour.


Community champions across the project (young leaders aged 14 to 25) saw positive changes for themselves with all wellbeing areas improving and with increases in life satisfaction and happiness, whilst their anxiety levels also fell. This perhaps reflects the greater level of programme engagement champions had through the training and the wider range of activities they were involved in. Furthermore, 53% of champions highlighted that their overall confidence had been improved by their experience.

In Manchester, the engagement of the local cohesion team helped extend the partnership working into planning and activity development aligned with local strategic partnerships and providing workshops for young people to discuss cohesion issues, on neutral ground in a safe space. The postcode wars between ‘gangs’ of young people between Moss Side and Whalley Range were diluted through regular engagement in activities, educational workshops and providing opportunities for those young people to gain coaching qualifications. I still recall the excited phone call from the Manchester co-ordinator telling me that young people had crossed the street into each other’s wards because of the relationships and friendships built through Breaking Boundaries. 

What are the plans for the next few years?

Even though Breaking Boundaries no longer receives external funding to support its activities the cities and partners have worked exceptionally hard to ensure the legacy of the programme continues to be felt in local communities through localised resources and partnerships. As national delivery partners we will continue to work with these cities and communities to share our learnings with others whilst collectively advocating for further investment and attention to be focused on strengthening community and social cohesion and the powerful role sport can play.


We will achieve this in a number of different ways, firstly through our ongoing work as founding members of the Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network working though its 'community of practice' alongside StreetGames and Sporting Equals to drive forward the ambitions within the #OpenGoal framework in partnership with the Sport for Development Coalition. This includes a special online mini conference on September 21st which this group of organisations will be putting on to showcase the impact that programmes like Breaking Boundaries and others can have in building stronger, more cohesive communities. Among other things, we want to enable many more organisations across the sector to understand and capture the enormous positive impact they can have in this area, and we want to set out how we as a sector can support this to happen.

We will also continue to advocate for and promote the Power of Sport Toolkit which helps organisations design and evaluate their interventions to positively impact on social cohesion. The toolkit was developed by the Belong Network in consultation from a range of partners and support by Spirit of 2012 and Sport England.  

Through our work within our own organisation, helping staff understand how we can all play our part in strengthening social cohesion in the workplace and through all the interventions we deliver, and help others to do the same, especially young people as we continue to invest in supporting the next generation of inclusive leaders.

one team

Register for online conference 'One Team: How sport can build more connected communities' on September 21st (1000-1200)