Is sport the key to reducing the number of young people ending up in the criminal justice system?

Watch: The young people of Pill, Newport, share how hard life in lockdown has been for them.

On a warm and sunny Friday night in the Newport area known as Pill, the air comes alive with the sound of young people and their families playing and laughing together.

In the heart of the community, there is a weekly exercise session at the Pill Millennium Center for children and teens, which resumes after countless quieter weekends where gatherings were not allowed due to the pandemic.

“It was probably the worst experience of my life,” Hilmee Mohamed said of the blockages. “I missed being here a lot,” he added.

“I love to play football, it helps me to be confident and relieves my stress at home. When I have a bad day it motivates me to be a better footballer and it also makes me stronger in life. “.

Those leading this session see this impact on many young people who attend it regularly, and it is a community that needs support after a difficult time.

Lucy Donovan, who works for Newport Lives and runs the Positive Futures program, spoke to Wales at Six on Friday about the importance of the session at Pill.

This session is one of many organized through collaboration between several community organizations and projects, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner of Gwent.

The work they do at Pill, however, is part of something much bigger: something that could have a significant positive impact on reducing problems in communities across Wales and beyond.

Commercial Street in Pill, Newport, near the location of the football session.

Newport Live is a local partner in a three-year, £ 1.7million UK-wide project called ‘Leveling the Playground’ which aims to increase the number of children from diverse backgrounds ethnicities in sport and physical activity.

The overall objective of the project is to prevent and divert these same children and young people from being involved in the criminal justice system.

There is a compelling reason for this. According to the latest figures, the proportion of black children taken into custody or sentenced by police is now double what it was ten years ago.

Sport Wales also claims the pandemic has also “widened inequalities” across socioeconomic status, age and gender.

Two of the models supporting the Positive Futures project in Newport are Leon Brown and Ashton Hewitt. They grew up a few miles from the Pill Millennium Center and now both play for the Dragons rugby region and the Wales senior team.

For most of the last year, young people have been barred from playing team and group sports due to the pandemic, which Leon and Ashton said would have been unthinkable when they were younger.

“It must have been incredibly difficult, especially at this age with all this energy to burn,” Ashton said. “It’s just cutting off an option on how to exercise that energy and force their hand to do something else.”

“I think the blockages were difficult for everyone, but especially for the kids,” Leon told me. “Having to stay inside while they went out and played normally, I think it cost people a lot.

“The more we can help people to have the possibility to play sports and to take another way, I think it will be huge. But it needs funding, these things are not free,” he added. .

Leon Brown and Ashton Hewitt both play for the Dragons rugby region

Leon and Ashton both called for more investment to improve access to sport in communities like Pill around Wales.

“Access is really the main thing and if we can get more initiatives like Positive Futures then that work can be done because I’ve seen what they’re doing and it’s amazing, and the kids have it. also appreciate, “said Ashton.

“But there are only a limited number of children they can reach, so the more you invest in organizations like this, the better for the children and the more opportunities they will have.

“Sport is a huge thing to just open up the world to these young children.”

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