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Earlier this month the VVU visited The Southend Enrichment, Alternative Learning and Diversionary Programme. This is a programme that has been running since 2019, initiated by Southend-on-Sea City Council’s Sport and Leisure Team and funded by partners such as the VVU, PFCC and Essex Community Foundation Trust.

Research shows that participation by young people in structured sporting activities can help increase community safety. Different schemes and interventions can divert young people from crime and anti-social behaviour.

There are two alternative learning provisions in Southend and many of the children and young people that the Sport and Leisure Team, the Police and Youth Offending Team had been coming into regular contact with, were students at these provisions. Rather than letting negative behaviour escalate and then requiring Police intervention, the Sport and Leisure Team wanted to work with both alterative provisions to support students and prevent the increase of negative and risky behaviour.

Both provisions have welcomed the programme and staff and students have been instrumental in its development and success.

Programme design

The programme is co-designed by students to create engaging, positive alternative activities for those at risk of engaging in crime, anti-social behaviour, and other risk-taking behaviour. Coaches are chosen with great care to be engaging and inspiring – all the coaches act as positive role-models to help build students confidence, improve resilience, help set and achieve goals, and identify and tackle challenging behaviour.

The programme works with both male and female, primary and secondary school students. The pupils get involved with group activities that promote problem solving, teamwork and a commitment to learning and self-improvement.

Physical activity can range from anything from basketball, kickboxing, boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, through to other creative sessions like music production, animal therapy, team away days, art and design, commercial make-up and heathy eating and nutrition sessions.

Being part of a team and enjoying the activity helps children & young people develop many of the social skills they will need for life.  It teaches them to cooperate, to be less selfish, and to listen to others. It also gives them a sense of belonging and helps them make new friends, building their social circle outside school. Healthy behaviours are a positive side effect of exercise – children and young people are calmer and more able to express themselves through conversation.

Programme successes

In the six-month period the VVU has been supporting with funding, the programme has delivered 202 individual activity sessions, which have all had direct and face-to-face contact with students. Total number of active & regular participation throughout the whole programme is 2,583 and to date this equates to an approx. 94% attendance rate on the programme.

Overall attendance has improved at both alternative learning provisions. Attendance at one provision is higher than the PRU national average – the school is beginning to close the gap on mainstream attendance figures.

86% of students taking part in boxing and kickboxing reported a significant increase in their emotional control, stating they are ‘more aware of their emotional response to certain situations.’

Police report a reduction in violent crime and ASB by those known to them. More than three-quarters of the school group indicated a reduction in, or cessation of, offending activity within a six-month period, as well as re-engagement in education & being ready to learn.

The programme is highly praised by parents who report that the proactive activities have given their child more confidence and developed their understanding and tolerance of others.


One of the head teachers at the alternative learning provision said: “I just wanted to put in words our gratitude for the support we have received with providing essential funding for our pupil’s enrichment and development. Our pupils have often missed out due to negative stereotypes around exclusion from school and behaviour. The opposite is true of our pupils, and they are often very talented and genuine young people with the ability to succeed and become effective and valuable citizens in society. We understand that ‘behaviour’ often masks underlying issues such as trauma, poverty and shame.”

He adds: “We work on relationships and providing educational and recreational opportunities to help support our pupils’ social, emotional development and future aspirations. Our pupils have often not had access to or have missed opportunities due to deprivation or investment in them and their futures.

“The investment from the PFCC and Violence and Vulnerability Unit and the delivery of the programme through Southend City Council’s Sport and Leisure Team helps support and provide opportunities that our pupils would not have.

“It gives them access to experiences and activities that makes them believe in themselves.

Combat Academy

The VVU visited Southend Combat Academy – one of the activity providers – and talked to the coaches there about their involvement in the programme. They told us about how proud they were to be part of the programme and how taking the students to the Academy rather than running sessions in school has seen a huge reduction in disruptive behaviour.

They told us that because the coaches engage with the students on an individual basis, they have had success helping guide them away from bad life choices outside the gym. Constantly discussing and addressing issues such as gang culture, post code wars, county lines, and risk of exploitation and looking at other choices has helped students see they have other opportunities in life.  Many of the students also choose to attend the Academy and gym outside of school sessions, adding to their increased and improved fitness, motivation and willingness to engage.

We are so impressed by the work happening in Southend and the determination by staff, coaches and pupils to create better life chances and increased opportunities for either themselves or others. It was hugely inspiring to see in action.