Using sport to make a difference

Ahead of Volunteers' Week, we look at a sport project that’s helping young Syrians to find their feet in the UK

23 May 2017 News

A project using sport and activity for good in the community has reached more than 1,500 people.

Get Active for Good Cashpoint, by vInspired, offered grants of up to £500 along with dedicated support and advice to help youngsters design and deliver unique projects that create positive change where they live.

7,100 Volunteering hours contributed as a result of the projects

The programme, supported by Sport England, has helped 35 youth-led and sports-themed social action projects.

They’ve collectively engaged 298 volunteers – including many who had not volunteered before – with over 7,100 volunteering hours contributed during the initial grant-funding period alone.

One example of a project that went from idea to reality has its roots in Leeds.

Sixteen-year-old Shaheen Al-Ghofari wanted to support young Syrians who had settled in his home town, by setting up circuit training sessions.

Given free use of his local community centre, the 16-year-old used Facebook to get the message out and recruit the volunteers he needed.

Equipment like resistance bands, skipping ropes and boxing gloves were laid out on the floor of the community centre, with the group divided into teams and each assigned a volunteer who supervised.

Most volunteering has an impact on experience but this one had a personal impact

Shaheen Al-Ghofari

The volunteer did the exercise and the participants, including people who were not from Syria, took their lead.

“If one of my volunteers didn’t know Arabic, but the guys only knew Arabic and couldn’t speak fluent English, he just does the exercise and says ‘copy me’,” says Shaheen.

"So you’d do that and halfway through we’d have a break, then we’ll carry on again and maybe do a competition, like ‘how many press-ups you can do in a minute?’

"And then we’ll just talk. [The talking] was unplanned but it was good. I felt it was good for them to speak to each other and learn different cultures.”

Positive effect

Explaining why he wanted to do the project, he said: “I felt the situation in Syria now is terrible and they’ve just come from a war zone or they’ve got nothing else to do.

“I didn’t want them to sit down and just do nothing. I wanted them to take their mind off the problems and come and do some exercise.”

“Exercise is good for the brain and, also, they’d communicate with other people and their English will improve inevitably.

“At the end of the day it’s like an escape, something fun to do apart from their studying.

“They’ve got to study extra hard because they’ve got no English. Apart from that, they can do something exciting.”

Volunteers' Week

With Volunteers’ Week starting on 1 June, Shaheen is in no doubt that his volunteers have benefited from the project.

“The volunteers have become more socially aware of others’ backgrounds – and it’s had a positive ripple effect overall,” he says. “I feel like I’m more confident than before.

“Most volunteering has an impact on experience but this one had a personal impact.”

The teenager wants to do more and is already thinking about what that might be: “I had so much fun doing the first project and I’ve got more experience now. After having done one, the second one, hopefully, is only going to be better,” he says.

His ideas are taking shape and there’s one thing he’s determined about: “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be interesting – and it’s sport-related. Maybe [this time with] younger people under the age of 12, just to balance it out a bit more.”

Further information

Volunteers’ Week starts on 1 June and is an annual event celebrating the difference volunteers make to every community across the country.