Freezing but fun football fieldwork with Start Again

I spent last week in Birmingham visiting Start Again CIC – an organisation that provides a wide range of activities to engage young people from the local area and support them with decisions, changes and issues during an uncertain time in their life.

The original premise of Start Again used football as an engagement tool to encourage young people from the local community to participate, learning along the way lessons in teamwork and communication as well as about healthy lifestyles.  Start Again has since expanded into other sports (netball and yoga) and other activities (music) – as well as being due to open a semi-supported housing project in the next few months.  All of these streams aim to share the same ethos and atmosphere of openness and equality.

I spent the bulk of my time in Birmingham at the Powerleague pitches in Aston, where the football projects are run from.  I observed a variety of different groups of individuals accessing the Start Again scheme – from an open session where anyone could come along, to a closed session where clients from housing associations and the Early Intervention Service were participating.  I also observed a session of the Start Again/Development Keys ‘Winning Ways’ programme, consisting of 16-18 year olds from a local training centre. This again used football as the engagement tool, but taught more formal connections between behaviour and football inside the clubhouse, before the physical training began.  The ethos amongst all groups was the same, though, and it was a passion for playing the game.  As my predecessor David had reported last year, the footballers were effectively communicating and ‘playing fair’ throughout.  The impact of the Start Again value set was especially apparent during the Winning Ways session where lessons from the classroom were being played out clearly on the pitch.

As well as interviewing coaches, players and other staff at the Powerleague pitches, I also spent some time speaking to individuals with an external perspective of Start Again.  These included staff members from the EIS, supported housing agencies and the workers at the PCT.  These, combined with the internal perspectives of individuals who had been involved with the service for varying lengths of time, provided me with a rounded viewpoint on Start Again, how it has changed in the past year, and how it is continuing to change to fit in with future need.

I did not get the chance to attend any of the women’s only groups which is something that I am very keen to do in order to better assess the difference between programmes.  I will therefore be returning to Birmingham one Friday in February.  If anyone associated with Start Again would like to talk to me about their experience of the organisation, then please contact me on hannah.reidy@kcl.ac.uk and we can arrange a meeting.

In the meantime, the findings from this round of fieldwork from Start Again has allowed us to further refine the intervention model. This will ensure that it will fit with an organisation very different from BlueSCI in Manchester, by digging down to the essence of the process.

Thank you very much to everyone at Start Again for making me feel so welcome – and unobtrusive – last week.  I am aware that a female standing trying to remember the offside rule is not the most normal sight at the Powerleague pitches, but people carried on regardless! You allowed me to gain some really valuable insight into how Start Again’s processes work, and we look forward to sharing the results with you all soon.

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