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30 Jan 2023 | 22:22

England Athletics recently launched the Personal Best Foundation to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds across the country. Following its launch, the Foundation joined the Sport for Development Coalition and in this article, Benji Davys speaks to its manager Amy Weaver-Tyler.

Hi Amy, thanks for speaking to us. Can you tell us what the Personal Best Foundation is?

"The Personal Best Foundation is a brand new charity that was formally launched in November 2022. The charity is about changing the lives of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds through the power of athletics. Athletics is such an inclusive sport with something for everyone; however, inequalities in our sport continue to exist for those from low-income families. Our primary target audience is from four to 25 years old, and our vision is for all children and young people to achieve their personal best through athletics whether that is on the track, at school, or in life."

What specific need is the Foundation looking to address?

"It is seeking to address those inequalities and disadvantages that children and young people face who do not have access to the benefits of sport and physical activity from athletics. Athletics isn’t just about standing on a podium with a medal, it’s about what it brings to their lives; having more confidence, building friendships, making community connections, achieving more at school, and having the confidence to be able to do that. Young people are able to experience those benefits through athletics.

"Inequalities and poverty mean four million children and young people are prevented from being able to participate, so we have three programme areas based on our framework: schools, communities, and young leaders. Our ‘Schools’ programme focuses on extra-curricular school activity and providing high-quality sports provision for after school; effectively having satellite clubs within schools. ‘Communities’ focuses on having a social impact by taking athletics into communities and safe spaces of children and young people who wouldn’t otherwise access an Athletics club. Young Leaders provides free-to-access coaching opportunities and reduces financial barriers to becoming a coach or official. The Foundation wants every youngster to have an opportunity and the potential to be their best."

How can athletics benefit children and young people from under-represented and under-served backgrounds, as described by the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework?

"There are three main areas that benefit children and young people from all backgrounds: physical, mental, and social/emotional. The physical aspect links to the fundamental benefits of sport, making children and young people stronger and fitter. As well as being physically active, athletics allows children and young people to feel less isolated and lonely, reduce anxiety and depression, and gain more confidence for example body confidence. Thanks to its inclusive approach, athletics enables individuals to find the bit of the sport that is best for them. The social/emotional wellbeing element focuses on the loneliness that young people are facing. People can sometimes think of athletics as an isolated sport but due to the club-connected environment, it gives children and young people a social side. For athletes such as Fatima Whitbread, she will say sport saved her life and the social/mental well-being aspects are heightened 10-fold. Children and young people who aren’t facing inequality can also achieve these benefits, but when you come from a disadvantaged background, the need for positive impact is much greater due to that hardship and those challenges. It can become difficult to see a way out, but a sport like athletics can help you to achieve more, not only on track but in school and life."

PB2Are there other ambassadors for the Foundation who help to exemplify this?

"Commonwealth Games champion Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker took up athletics when he was 15 and the main barrier for him in accessing sport as a young person wasn’t his physical disability but the mental side of it, accepting his disability and not comparing himself to his peers. Athletics gave him confidence, allowing him to become the young man who was willing to stand and present openly about his journey. This was about his own understanding and breaking down those mental barriers as to why he was different and why he couldn’t run in the same way that non-disabled athletes did. Then you look at someone like Donna Fraser, who is a big advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion. Donna uses her role as an ambassador to inspire young people through education and volunteer work and to highlight transferable skills such as in the workplace. There is a real appetite for athletes to get behind the Foundation due to the impact and benefit that athletics has had on their own lives. They can really see the benefit of sharing that."

What do you want the Foundation to have achieved over the coming years?

"Success in the early days will be piloting a number of programmes that help us to define and demonstrate what more needs to be done with different communities of children and young people. We hope to understand the landscape more; to understand the challenges that are facing these groups, or those that we are not reaching. The Foundation is aiming to do a lot more research, and we would also say the success will not necessarily be all about the numbers; it’s about how have the children and young people been impacted in terms of change, so how do we measure their happiness, confidence or achievements they have gone on to make? Investigating how that has changed the lives of young people, and understanding where children and young people started their journey and where they finished. Then it’ll be about if or how we can monitor those young people on the next stage of their journey. Physical activity is a key part of the Foundation’s aims but is not the end-game; it is if and how the young person feels better or has improved from being a part of athletics."

Why has the Foundation joined the Coalition?

"We were delighted to welcome Hitesh Patel, the Coalition’s Executive Director to the Foundation’s official launch event in November. We felt it was important that the Foundation joined the Coalition as soon as possible following its launch and we look forward to engaging and sharing good practice, and learning and development, with colleagues and organisations across the sector. We’re also very keen to help demonstrate the collective impact of sport for development and the contribution it can make to society through the #OpenGoal framework, especially in a cost-of-living crisis. Everyone knows the vital role that sport can play in supporting young people who are facing inequality, and now it’s about proving this to policy-makers right across Government."

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