Sporting Chance Case Study

Young people inspiring with sport in South Africa

15 April 2012

An innovative partnership between a college, City & Guilds and a local charity is sending young people off to South Africa to teach and inspire with sport, as Kate Herbert-Smith discovers

South Nottingham College has more in common with South Africa than a compass direction. It also shares know-how, enthusiasm and… footballs. Based on the college campus, Balls to Poverty is a charity that engages with young people in Nottingham and South Africa through sport. Over the past seven years, students from South Nottingham College have worked hard to raise money to fund annual trips to South Africa, where they distribute footballs, rugby balls and coaching sessions to children in poor townships.

By the end of April 2011, 152 male and female students from Nottingham College will have coached around 30,000 young South Africans across 28 townships in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth. The students are also passing their coaching skills on to locals who will carry on the work of Balls to Poverty long after they have returned to the UK. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that Balls to Poverty chooses to work with disadvantaged young people not just in South Africa but in the UK as well.

‘If you look at the issues surrounding anti-social behaviour in young people, research shows that many become interested in it around the ages of 10 and 11,’ says Managing Director of Balls to Poverty at South Nottingham College, Joe Sargison. ‘Part of our work here and in South Africa is early prevention. By engaging young people through sport we encourage and educate them to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.’ On their return to the UK, students deliver coaching sessions and motivational workshops to around 2000 children from primary schools in six-week cycles across disadvantaged areas of Nottingham, using the skills and experiences from their recent trips to South Africa.

‘We’re now getting to the point where the schools receive footballs as well so we’re mirroring what we do in South Africa in our own backyards,’ says Sargison. ‘We pair up the students with the areas and schools that they come from so that they can go into classrooms and say, “I’m like you. I’ve been in a few scrapes but look where I am now. I’m going to South Africa and I’m thinking about developing myself and my future.” The feedback from young people is that their heroes aren’t necessarily X Factor winners anymore but real local people like our role models, which is amazing.’

Sargison founded Balls to Poverty in 2004 after a trip to South Africa. ‘While working for Nottingham Forest Football Club, I was invited to guest coach a team in Johannesburg and take them on a tournament in Cape Town,’ he recalls. On his day off, Sargison took a tour of the Soweto township and was drawn to some youngsters playing a game of football. ‘They were playing with a ball made from screwed-up rags,’ he says. ‘I called one of the lads over and gave him the money to buy a proper football from a market stall across the street. Before I knew it, kids were flying out of the nearby shacks to play with it. It was a pretty powerful moment.’

When Sargison was invited back to South Africa, he took with him a team of 16-year-old boys that he was teaching, in his new position of sports lecturer at South Nottingham College, along with 30 footballs. ‘We had to raise £30,000 to get us there,’ he says. ‘We got there, pumped up the footballs and handed them out with a few kits donated to us by people in Nottingham. The reaction was phenomenal.’ While they were there, the staff shot a short film and on returning to the UK presented it to their sponsors, Unite the Union. ‘I showed the director of communications our DVD and he nearly broke down in tears.’ Soon after, Sargison received a donation from Unite the Union, and Balls to Poverty was officially born.

In 2009, Sargison teamed up with City & Guilds and began developing a vocational programme. The result was a Level 2 Sport and Community Development qualification, which launched in 2010. ‘We’ve packaged one of the City & Guilds qualifications around the Balls to Poverty experience to create a vocational sport development qualification,’ he explains. It runs for 11 months and has strict criteria that students must meet, including: raising £400; obtaining a Football Association level 1 coaching award; a rugby coaching award; working in eight South African townships providing motivational and educational workshops and working throughout the year in primary schools in disadvantaged areas of Nottingham.

Currently, the qualification in association with Balls to Poverty is only available through South Nottingham College. However, Sargison’s vision is that other areas of the UK will have access to similar experiences. ‘City & Guilds will support Balls to Poverty to make this happen,’ says Kevin Blanch, Portfolio Manager for Sports, Justice and Security at City & Guilds and who has been working with Sargison on the new qualification. ‘We’re working towards extending it to other City & Guilds centres across the UK and South Africa. Sports qualifications are leading the way, but this could also open the door to other industries working in a similar way.’

Work has already begun on creating a level 3 qualification and future plans could include a foundation degree in conjunction with local universities. ‘Both City & Guilds and Balls to Poverty are leading a new kind of talent revolution to help people be the best they can be, whatever their background, and encouraging them to lead by example,’ says Blanch. ‘The work already achieved by South Nottingham College made it simple for City & Guilds to develop it into an accredited qualification.’

The Principal at South Nottingham College, Malcolm Cowgill, is proud of the achievements of staff and students associated with the Balls to Poverty programme. ‘I’m delighted with its development over the last seven years. It has raised the profile of the college, both locally and nationally, and become a big part of the college’s success. The vocational qualification with City & Guilds is a great milestone for the Balls to Poverty programme, highlighting the importance of community development work both locally and internationally.’

With plans to extend the project to Uganda in 2012, as well as to Brazil in time for the next World Cup, Sargison relishes the challenges ahead. ‘I love teaching the coaches in South Africa. Some of them travel 300 kilometres to come to our coaching seminars and then travel back at night to return the next morning,’ he says. ‘They’re so open, accepting and responsive to what we’re doing. They cope in some of the most diabolical conditions but still have a smile on their face and do it all to help keep the kids away from drugs and gangs.’

As Balls to Poverty goes from strength to strength, the future looks bright for youngsters in both Nottingham and South Africa. ‘Lots of the students are 21 or 22 years old now and still in regular contact with us because the project means so much to them,’ says Sargison. ‘My motivation comes from the look on the youngsters’ faces when they’re messing around with a football and the joy it gives them. Also from witnessing first-hand the development of our role models and seeing the impact they’re having on others.’

Demi-Leigh Crofts, City & Guilds Sports and Community Development Level 2 (17)

Demi-Leigh Crofts was on an open day at South Nottingham College when she found out about the new City & Guilds Sports and Community Development Level 2 qualification. ‘We’d been put into groups to test our coaching abilities, when one of the tutors told me all about the new qualification,’ says Demi-Leigh. ‘I remembered seeing the coverage of Balls to Poverty on TV and thought if the course was linked with that, it could be really great.’

What appealed to Demi-Leigh about the course, she says, was being able to change the lives of the children and get involved with something worthwhile. ‘I’m getting experience I can’t get anywhere else,’ she says.’

On the subject of her trip to Cape Town, Demi-Leigh says: ‘I can’t wait to start coaching the children and hopefully make them smile. Apparently, up to 1000 kids can turn up so it will help develop my coaching and communication skills. I also can’t wait to see the kids’ faces when we give the footballs out.’

Demi-Leigh is looking forward to becoming a full-time coach or applying for a scholarship in the US. ‘The course has been a life-changing experience and opened my eyes to what I can do with my life. When I first thought about college, I didn’t think it would lead to me going to South Africa and doing all of these great things.’

Valentino Chibbaro, City & Guilds Sports and Community Development Level 2 (17)

On leaving school Valentino Chibbaro lacked confidence and direction. He had thought about applying for college but was unsure what to do when someone recommended the new City & Guilds Sports and Community Development qualification at South Nottingham College. ‘It sounded like such a unique experience, I hadn’t heard of another course like it,’ explains Valentino.

As one of the first students to take part in the qualification he feels it will give him an advantage over his peers when it comes to finding full-time employment and says that he’s already seeing the benefits on a personal level. ‘The fundraising element has been quite tough but I think that I’ve learnt more as a result. I’m more confident and have developed some good leaderships skills too,’ says Valentino. ‘I really enjoy going into the local schools and working with the kids, we laugh so much – they often really make my day.’

Excited about the trip with Balls to Poverty in April, Valentino says: ‘I’m most looking forward to having fun when we go to South Africa and working together to make a difference to the children’s lives. From what I’ve heard, everyone who does go comes back to the UK quite changed, but in a positive way. Because of what they see and who they meet they have more definite ideas about what they want to do with their lives.’

Valentino hopes to be playing football for either a youth team or academy as well as continuing to work with Balls to Poverty. ‘I’m thinking about possibly retaking my GCSEs and applying to the police force, or to become a fireman. I don’t think I would have the confidence to do that if I hadn’t done the City & Guilds course and got involved with Balls to Poverty. It’s really inspired me.’


Our research reveals that three quarters of young people demand skills-based training to achieve their ambitions Read full research article