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In February we took a trip to Garon Park in Southend to see how a project joint funded by the VVU (and Active Essex, South Essex Homes and Garon Wellbeing Park) is making a difference to a group of secondary school pupils from a school in Shoeburyness.

Working with young people – and in this particular case, a group of boys – the project, run by local organisation ATF (achieve, thrive, flourish), supports those who are at risk of permanent exclusion, or who have been truanting, to remain within full time education.

Young people are referred into Positive Futures by their school or the local Youth Offending Service. Those joining the project attend Garon Park two days a week and have the opportunity to participate in a range of sporting activities – football, boxing, Padel, badminton, rugby. They also contribute to the local community by getting involved in the upkeep of Garon Park by planting trees, building sheds and general site maintenance.

The group can attend Positive Futures if they improve their school attendance, they have to be respectful to the coaches and follow rules including no phones! The project teaches the young people how to work as a team, how to be respectful, how to listen, engage and follow instructions – all skills they can take back into the mainstream classrooms.

The 13 young people on site this morning were participating in a coaching session lead by Ted. Ted was referred to ATF by the Youth Offending Team. When Ted was younger, he was involved in crime and unfortunately received a criminal record. He also lost his chance to play semi-pro football due to drugs. He is now working hard to take his passion for football down the coaching route, not only teaching the young people great football tips and tricks but showing them how important it is to keep out of trouble. In Ted’s words “ATF helped me keep my head straight, so now I’m helping keep these kids heads straight. I don’t want them to end up like me.”

Speaking to Alex, one of the ATF coaches, she told us why the project is so important: “The young people come here not used to routine, boundaries and discipline. This gives them structure. The project is giving them another chance in life. Giving them a sense of purpose, of belonging, they are accomplishing something, they aren’t failing.”

The goal of the project is to get all pupils back into fulltime mainstream education but to also find a passion within them for a sport and help them access this in their local area. This then nurtures that further sense of community, of belonging and having a purpose.

Andy another one of the coaches and one of the ATF trustees explained that without the support of organisations like the Violence and Vulnerability Unit they just wouldn’t be able to offer this support. The funding helps reach more young people, offer more sporting opportunities and links young people in with positive role models. Building their confidence, aspirations and beliefs for a positive future