Founded in 2008, the BIGKID Foundation is a multi award-winning charity based in Lambeth supporting young people at risk of social exclusion. Through a variety of community engagement, mentoring and leadership programmes including football, tennis and basketball sessions, weekly youth clubs, holiday activities and residentials, BIGKID equips young people with the skills and strength to take control of their own lives and find, develop and act on their own potential. Speaking to Helen, the Foundation’s Development Director, we discussed the importance of sports in engaging young people and increasing their skills and confidence.
“The biggest challenges many of the young people who come to us face is low self-esteem and self-worth,” said Helen. This can lead to a variety of different issues, such as youth crime, lack of aspirations and a negative outlook on the future. Many of the young people they work with also struggle with the pressure of drugs and gangs.
But how does engagement in sports support growing self-esteem and confidence?
“The absence of judgement is very important. By offering individual support and being available for a chat, young people develop trust and open up.” At BIGKID, it is not about being the best at sports – it is about having fun and being part of a team, no one is benched. "If you're coming to play, you're going to play." says Helen. This is why so many young people are regulars. Once they come and become a part of the ‘BIGKID family’, as the charity is often referred to by the young people, they come again.
Young people are accepted, they can speak freely and exercise regularly outside in the fresh air. This has a big impact on their confidence and self-esteem and equips them with vital social skills. And they tell their friends about it. Word of mouth is the main way in which BIGKID recruits young people to their activities. Making their programmes as accessible as possible - both mentally and physically - is also part of their success in ensuring young people continue to come. The first time a young person turns up at BIGKID, they just play - no forms are needed at this point.
Helen has noticed that, contrary to common perceptions, it’s not just the boys who want to get involved with sports. The number of girls joining the BIGKID family increased from 4 in 2015 to more than 500 in 2017. This is particularly due to the charity’s flexibility. Young people are encouraged to take an active role in developing services. This is how the youth club nights started. After a couple of girls mentioned that they would like to have a safe space to come together and talk, BIGKID started a weekly youth club night. The boys soon followed suit asking for their own club night to meet, talk and have fun. The first one was held a couple of weeks ago.
The BIGKID Foundation shows how important engagement in sport is for young people’s development. It connects young Londoners from different backgrounds, allows them to have fun in a safe environment and gives them the opportunity to develop vital life skills while being active. But sport also teaches an important lesson – it’s not always about being the best, sometimes it’s simply about having fun.