Greenhouse Sports and Sport to Development: holistic care for disadvantaged students

Greenhouse Sports (Greenhouse) is an interesting and effective example of the practice of Sport to Development, and how Civil Society can compliment State education services. It is also an example of the variety of ways Civil Society manifests itself in the aid of Human Development, ‘using sport to promote social change’.

The organisation offers ‘sports coaching and mentoring to empower young people who are facing disadvantage’, helping ‘them unlock their full potential’.  With 15 years experience, and over 50 projects underway, attending to children where two-thirds come from deprived backgrounds, teaching a variety of niche sports, such as table tennis, with professional standards of coaching.

With only 16% of London school children reaching their recommended physical activity level, sport and physical activity is a luxury for some people. For more affluent people, the availability of team sports may be taken for granted, alongside the health benefits.

Alongside the health benefits of outdoor exercise, sport helps develop character and can improve other areas of life. Greenhouse see this effect from their work in school attendance data; 94% attendance for those who did not engage with Greenhouse Sports, compared to 97% attendance for those who did engage. 

This seems small, but it reflects an improved focus on education and is just one measurable aspect of how a person develops because of the sporting opportunity provided to them.  A challenge often for social sciences is to find new inventive ways to measure Human Development, and thus be able to decide what policies work best.

But, how does this excellent Civil Society work, within the context of public education, compare with the Welfare State’s provision for Human Development? And does this show good practice that State Education should be adopting?

How does Greenhouse help?

Josh Dee, Programme Impact and Support Manager at Greenhouse, explained in more detail how the organisation provides one coach, full time and employed by Greenhouse, to a school. Their staff are currently employed at 35 different secondary schools (including five special eds.). 

Each coach acts as a sports coach, mentor, role model, counsellor, and assistant teacher. Greenhouse applies a holistic model of development and support, through their coaches, a method that underpins the philosophy of Sport to Development.

Greenhouse believes in Human Development, and the different mechanisms or actions that can be taken to facilitate such improvement. Sport is one of these mechanisms, while the arts and other creative activities can stimulate the individual to think and learn independently. 

The coaches provide a model of motivation and achievement that can impact in other areas of life, such as education standards.  So by exercising good habits – hard-work, independent-thinking, commitment – the same good habits are stronger in other important areas of life.

While explicitly ‘Not an anti-crime, anti-knife crime’, Greenhouse aim to keep young people ‘safer for longer’, ‘engaged in sport’ and help develop ‘better attitudes to education’.  This means engaging wider human faculties through sporting activities, to essentially develop character and good individual traits. 

Below are the frameworks for the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Participants (a) and for Mainstream Participants (b).

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Greenhouse in partnership with wider Civil Society

Not only do Greenhouse exhibit and teach these values to children in schools, they share them with wider civil society.  This includes researchers from Loughborough University to improve data analysis and performance measuring. 

They also partner with LEAP, an organisation that helps prepare mentors, which has improved the capabilities of Greenhouse coaches.  Concurrently, they have engaged with Place2Be in online mental health training, again, improving the quality of their coaches. 

Sport to Development requires attending to physical, mental and emotional health, which is what a holistic model seeks to address simultaneously.  These are connected, but non-competitive goals, as Josh points out “you can’t be everything to everyone”, but you can help many different people in many different ways. 

The Covid shock to the Culture Sector

Unfortunately, like many industries, the Charity Sector and wider Civil Society groups have seen a huge loss of income, totalling £4 billion pounds over the course of 12 weeks of the crisis.  Economic growth is on the down, so the government must attend to stimulating economic activity. 

Government support for culture and sports in response to Coronavirus is welcomed, even if it was delayed.  However, the proposed package and plan has been dismissed as ‘meaningless’ by the sector. 

Oliver Dowden, Culture Minister, promises he will do all he can to get the public’s theatres “back up and running” and he has provided £160 million in emergency funds, to be administered through the government’s array of support mechanisms (furlough, grants, loans etc.).  The Government was clear it would help “on top” of this also, if necessary.

It is vital the arts and sporting sector remain afloat to retain the means for future Human Development.  Franklin D. Rosevelt’s ‘Federal Art Project’, in action from 1935-1943, was an example of the kind of state intervention that is vital for society and human wellbeing, but not always remembered in the midst of an economic crisis. 

It is a shame and potentially a scandal that Wigan football club have recently fallen into administration, but this will not be entirely related to Coronavirus.  Although, this still begs the question, how could the Club have got into this position in the first place?

Greenhouse in response to Coronavirus

Greenhouse has engaged itself in Digital Civil Society where it can, promoting HomeCoach videos as part of an isolation online fitness class.  This also acts as a source of donations to help charities struggling due to Coronavirus, an example of ‘mutual aid’, as Greenhouse partners with other organisations in Civil Society. 

Alongside this digital activism, Greenhouse launched a food distribution programme during the crisis to help with fight food poverty.  They were able to retrofit their new Sports Centre in Marylebone – itself a renovated Church –  into a food distribution centre for Church Street Ward. While Marylebone is often associated with great wealth, this specific area is in the top 10% of child poverty in London. 

The organisation’s amazing work is supported by its network of donors, ranging from Goldman Sachs to the University of Manchester Men’s Hockey Club. This again reflects the benefits of voluntarism and philanthropy, and how Civil Society can be generous and responsive to social issues with their help. 

Looking to the future

Over the course of the year, the Manchester Men’s Hockey Club raised over £3,000, with this money shared between Greenhouse, Mind, and other selected charities.  The departing chairman, Jasper Williams, commented that, “as sportsmen, we understand how valuable sport can be in a child’s development and beyond, so their approach really resonated with us”. 

Josh Dee, a Manchester Hockey alumni himself, explained how there are opportunities to volunteer with Greenhouse and to support the current food distribution project.  The incoming Charity Sec for the Club, Cameron Thomely, hopes that, in future, “charities we work with can directly engage our club members”, so within this crisis there is ample opportunity for greater engagement between different groups within civil society. 

While it is fair to praise the Government for their aid to the Cultural Sector, it is also important to critique their overall care of the sector in the past decade.  The funding they are providing now, may prove small in comparison to the amount that was removed from investment in art or sport over ten years of Conservative Government. 

In secondary schools the number of PE hours fell by 35,000 in five years.  Meaning pupils did 317,100 hours of PE in 2012, which then became 282,200 hours in 2017, with no evidence to suggest this trend has been reversed.  Coronavirus is certainly not helping, as schools have had to close, and may have to shut again in the face of local spikes, or a second wave in the Winter. 

The £160 million promised for the arts turns out to be significantly less than the £400 million council arts funds have lost since 2010.  But where the State and Central Government have deliberately withdrawn, Civil Society has filled the gaps the best it can.

This author supports the values of collectivism and the idea the community network can do important social good if done well, but I believe that needs some direction from the state.  So it is unfortunate to see such a withdrawal of funds, and potentially direction, if the focus of the last ten years was ‘making more with less’. 

I hope in the future the University Hockey Club and other organisations can organise Club members to volunteer for Greenhouse and other charities.  It is one small example of Civil Society working in its heterogeneous and creative manner, contributing in a piecemeal manner to the improvement of society as a whole. 

Below is the link to Greenhouse Sport’s donation and volunteering pages, please take a look if you are interested!

By Oliver Storey

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