The phrase ‘Olympic legacy’ is understandably all the rage at the moment. Indeed, Mayor Lutfur Rahman has used it as a pretty weak hook for an article about housing and Government cuts in the Huffington Post today. It’s here.
If he (or whoever writes his pieces for him) had been a bit cuter, and possibly a bit more knowledgeable about what goes on in Tower Hamlets, he could have boasted instead about how a handful of the borough’s schools are leading the entire country when it comes to delivering a true Olympic legacy, one that genuinely harnesses the power of sport to do good.
For at George Green’s School on the Isle of Dogs and at Raines Foundation School and Morpeth School in Bethnal Green, the lives of probably thousands of kids are being transformed via a pioneering coaching initiative run by the marvelous Greenhouse charity.
Greenhouse, which is run by ex-accountant Michael de Giorgio (see, we are a special breed..), places inspiring coaches in inner city schools with the aim of not only improving children’s sporting prowess, but also – and more importantly – of using sport to make them better people and more employable.
Would you believe that Tower Hamlets youngsters are now amongst the best table tennis players in Britain? I saw an exhibition of the Morpeth kids in action when the Queen visited Millwall fire station few years ago: they were breathtaking.
[Of course, it's particularly ironic that George Green's is one of the schools doing so much good in this area. Last April (see here and here), its headteacher, Kenny Frederick, warned Lutfur and his cabinet spokesman for education Oli Rahman that their completely uncosted decision to take youth services back under the bureaucratic and historically failed control of the town hall risked returning the Island youth to street gangs.]
The Greenhouse charity is so well thought of that Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry, via their new Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, last month backed its Coach Core pilot scheme, which will roll out nationally if successful.
I wrote about it for the Sunday Express here; it is worth a read.
And I thought I’d use this blog to highlight another piece that appeared in the Sunday Express last week, this time by Greenhouse’s Michael de Giorgio. We asked for his thoughts on the Olympic Legacy for school sport. It would be brilliant if Lutfur could write about the Greenhouse’s work in one of his East End Life columns sometime soon.
Here it is:
THESE are the Games that promised to “inspire a generation”. Over the past 17 days, they have done so.
The promise of the Games was not just to deliver a festival of sport, however, it was about creating a sporting legacy for young people inspired by the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.
With that generation now inspired, are we ready to deliver the promised legacy?
I’m afraid the answer is “not yet”.
Grassroots sport is not in a good place. Top of the agenda are cuts to school sports and the Sports Minister’s admission that considerable spending on raising sport participation has failed.
Introducing a school games competition is a sticking plaster that is fooling no one.
To start to put this right we need to start to change how we think about sport.
Our Sports Minister’s remit is to win medals and get the maximum number of people playing.
The former has been a resounding success, while the latter has not.
Measuring the role of sport and making funding decisions based on these two measures greatly undervalues the role sport should play in society.
Raising sport participation is failing because the quality of the experience received by the child through these schemes is not good enough. The funding system rewards those providers who claim they can reach the most people. If your focus is volume alone, quality will be poor.
We need to spread the funding less thinly. Current government thinking is to target 14 to 25-year-olds. That is simply too late in a young person’s life.
We need instead to concentrate funding on the most disadvantaged communities, where sport can make the biggest social difference.
Secondly, we need to develop our coaches to have a greater influence on young people. We can follow the lead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on this point, who through their Royal Foundation, have worked with us to set up Coach Core.
The scheme not only trains coaches to be good technical coaches, but also mentors and role models who can engage and develop young people.
This approach needs to be adopted widely if sport is to make the difference it can.
These principles of focusing on disadvantaged communities and using coaches to develop young people are used by several charities, of which Greenhouse is one.
We place coaches full time, spending an average of five hours a week with each young person, setting very high expectations.
The young people are out-behaving, out-attending and out-performing their school peers.
They are fitter, healthier and the risk of them being drawn into crime is greatly reduced.
However, in a system which rewards organisations that promise thousands of attendees, but deliver no real benefit, charities like ours remain the exception rather than the rule.
We were promised a better legacy than this.