John McAvoy, The Real McAvoy
McAvoy was in his mid-20s, convicted of armed robbery and whiling away days on the prison rowing machine while serving a life sentence. Now, he’s 35, living a free life and breaking records across the globe as the world’s only Nike-sponsored triathlete.
He says that working out allowed him to gain some semblance of control while incarcerated, having been in and out of prison for nearly a decade. McAvoy forged a successful sports career upon his early release in 2012 and partly credits his time in prison for his physical endurance, his sense of time warped by stints staring at the same wall for longer than a triathlon would take.
Now, he visits classes of schoolkids and gives talks wherever he can; he’s determined to show others they can change their behaviour. This year he’ll be developing the foundation he launched last year to support disenfranchised young people who might turn to crime and self-destruction to cope.
Andre Seidel and Tim Nokes, Campus Skatepark
This social enterprise uses skateboarding to engage with Bristol youth, running two skateparks and a skate shop in the area. The Big Issue Invest-backed organisation approaches youth work as something best achieved when kids can socialise away without “pressure to conform” – that it revolves around skateboarding, and its anti-establishment connotations, is no coincidence.
Directors Andre Seidel and Tim Nokes launched the business in 2011 and have since amassed thousands of members. The weekly timetable across their two venues – ‘The Pool’ and ‘The Park’ – includes toddler takeovers, skate tuition, bike nights, rollerblading lessons and girls-only sessions.
There are regular week-long ‘skateschools’ on offer too, and the space is used to host exhibitions and parties. The youth work involved is deliberately informal, with all staff trained in how to communicate with kids but keeping the focus on mentorship through skating. The social enterprise also runs a retail apprenticeship, with some of the young people coming up through it and into employment with the business.
Now the focus is on making Campus as accessible as possible. This year they’re in the process of bidding for funding to make free sessions available for kids who can’t afford them (last year they received a grant to buy equipment for disadvantaged children to hire before skating). The directors are also looking into setting up wheelchair access and classes for disabled people.
Prisoners on the run isn’t always something to be encouraged, but Prison Parkruns are helping inmates take great strides in their rehabilitation process.
Parkruns are a global health and fitness phenomenon, with more than three million runners around the world putting in time on the track in local parks. In late 2017, HMP Haverigg in Cumbria became the first prison to introduce a Parkrun. Since then, more than 200 runners have taken part, with reports of improved mental and physical health, the promotion of healthy choices such as quitting smoking and better relations between inmates and prison staff, who also take part.
Magilligan Prison in Northern Ireland followed suit in early 2018 and there are now nine Parkruns in adult prisons plus the Keppel Parkrun, in the grounds of the Wetherby Young Offenders Institute in Yorkshire.
Whether volunteering or running, the activity, community and sense ofachievement can be inspiring. And the running habit is one that can be continued – with local Parkruns (now at 586 locations across the UK) and the sense of solidarity helping people with convictions integrate back into society on their release.
Vinnie Whitehead, Zoo Skatepark
Campus are not the only ones using the sport to grow a community. Rollerblader Vinnie Whitehead took the reins of York’s Zoo Skatepark when, in a landmark move, the city council handed over control to the York native, who partnered with Andy Simpson, MD of a York-based social enterprise BrightSparks.
Together they revamped and modernised the skatepark, introducing a cafe and seating area, supported and supervised sessions with qualified skate sports staff and even preparing to run summer camps over the school holidays. The Zoo, they say, should be a destination for all.
Katee Hui, Hackney Laces
After a move from Canada to London, Ontario native Katee Hui spotted something lacking in her community: a healthy space in which girls could play football.
In 2011 she founded Hackney Laces, a community football club for women and girls in East London. But after a pilot run, Katee and the other volunteers noticed that there was even more value in the club than football. She says she watched girls’ self-esteem improve and their drive to be involved in the community skyrocket.
Katee, driven to contribute to her community (she also mentors at Bethnal Green Ventures and is a trustee of Parkrun Global) concocted an ‘off-the-pitch’ course. This means that when they’re not sprinting up the pitch, volunteers support the girls with job applications, work experience placements and mentoring. The club has helped more than 200 girls: dozens have gone on to apprenticeships or to become qualified FA coaches, with some even winning full athletics scholarships in the US.
It’s set to be a big year for Hackney Laces in the run up to the Fifa Women’s World Cup, with the club preparing their ‘this is what a footballer looks like’ campaign. Katee recently secured funding to roll out the model across other areas, so watch this space for the Laces way reaching a pitch near you.
Saints Foundation and Southampton FC
Southampton FC are, in every way, a community club. The Premier League mainstays don’t just entertain on the pitch, their charitable arm Saints Foundation exists, they simply state, to fulfil the potential and change the lives of children, young people and adults at risk across the local area.
This is not empty rhetoric. They run employablility programmes, they go into schools with a team of community champions, they work on outreach work for the marginalised and disenfranchised. They echo The Big Issue aims and values. It’s why we’re proud to partner with them.
Look out for something very special coming soon in 2019.
The Running Charity
Since it was formed in 2012, The Running Charity has used the power of running and exercise to help transform the lives of young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Founded by Alex Eagle and James Gilley, who both knew the importance of sport for people in challenging circumstances, The Running Charity creates personal and fitness development programmes in which young people set and achieve goals in fitness, while working to achieve life goals.
From accessing housing and enrolling in education to running marathons, the programme has already had a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of young people in Manchester and London – preventing homelessness, promoting health and fitness, and helping young people secure a positive future.
Leeann Dempster, Hibs Chief Executive & Ann Budge, Hearts Chair
The two administrative giants of Edinburgh football have overseen the recovery of their teams from the Scottish Championship – and in Hearts’ case, administration – back to the higher echelons of the game. Both figureheads felt it essential that their clubs reconnected with the fanbase and the communities they serve.
Designed to bring physical and mental health benefits and employment opportunities to vulnerable people, Dempster was behind Hibs’ GameChanger initiative. The Public Social Partnership, established between Hibs, their Foundation and NHS Lothian, is believed to be the first of its kind in football.
Dempster was also recently named chair of the Regional Enterprise Council, which will advise on the delivery of socially inclusive investment projects. Budge is equally committed to local causes – among her roles is a recent confirmation as the new patron to local charity Care and Repair Edinburgh, which provides a lifeline service to older and disabled people across the city.