As well as sharing the complete Brunel University London evaluation, we have conducted an interview with Dr. Laura Hills, the lead researcher on the 24-month long study. She shares her highlights and key takeouts from the study.

Young people highly valued meeting other young people and developing positive relationships with the staff. I think this element was life changing for some of the participants both in terms of making friends, increasing confidence, and having positive relationships with a caring adult.”

Dr. Laura Hills

What made you want to work with Street League?

I knew about Street League and was impressed by the work that they do. It was exciting to be able to work with an organisation who was committed to using sport to really make a difference in the lives of young people who are out of employment, education, and training. I had also met Matt and Lindsey and I knew that they would be really committed to the research and interested in the learning about the challenges as well as the strengths of the programme. This really gives the research integrity.

What most excited you about the design of the research? 

I was very excited by Street League’s interest in using qualitative methods for the evaluation and their openness to innovative approaches to the data collection. We were able to design a project that used a variety of methods to try to gain an in-depth understanding of the organisation and the experiences of the participants. We ended up with some excellent videos that the young people created about the Street League experience and some very interesting individual journey interviews which showed in more detail how Street League impacted individual young people.

What were the main takeouts?

A key finding was just how important the social element was. Young people highly valued meeting other young people and developing positive relationships with the staff. I think this element was life-changing for some of the participants both in terms of making friends, increasing confidence, and having positive relationships with a caring adult.

Another key finding was that young people perceived that they were developing a range of personal, social and employability-related skills. We have extensive data on the range of ways young people felt they had developed with many examples from their experiences in the Academy and in employment. 

We also focused on Street League’s theory of change and I think we were able to highlight some of the crucial points in young people’s journey through the programme.

What most surprised you during the research?

I think what surprised me most was finding how important young people, the delivery teams, and the management felt sport was to the success of the programme. We expected to find that the sport was fun and served as a hook to get people to the programme but it also was crucial to young people’s personal and social development and to their development of employability skills. The young people (and delivery team) gave us many examples of how the sport connected to the employability training. This will make a great contribution to research on sport and positive youth development as well as to young people and employability training.

Is there anything that makes Street League different from other sport for development organisations?

Street League stands apart from other organisations in its focus on employability and its success in moving young people into employment, training or education. It also has made clear links between sport and employability skills. Many organisations link sport to positive youth development, but Street League are distinctive in finding innovative and creative ways to integrate employability training with sport. They also have strong transparent quantitative evidence that the programme works.

Street League has also made a concerted effort to include young women as well as young men in their programmes. This is often a challenge for sport for development organisations, and for employability organisations for that matter. Including the dance-fitness has provided an entry point for some young women and young men as well.

What can other people/organisations learn from this?

First of all, I think other organisations that use sport can help young people develop transferable skills. Often, sports programmes assume that young people will develop skills simply by playing sport. While this may be the case, Street League has shown that it is possible to make this explicit so that young people understand the connection between the activity they are working on in sport and the skill.

Some young people benefit from training and education outside of the classroom. The smaller groups, more informal and democratic environment, and social support that Street League offers is appreciated by young people. They particularly like the inclusive atmosphere and being treated like adults by the teachers and coaches.

With the right environment and support, it is possible to move young people who are experiencing many challenges into work. Young people identified that they were learning skills that they needed for employment and skills and knowledge that were not part of their school experience.

What is the value of external evaluation to charities like Street League?

Street League has very strong quantitative evidence about the outcomes and the number of young people who move into employment, training, and education.

I think that we were able to add to that by providing some of the detail about what aspects are contributing most to success as well as some of the challenges. This provides a basis for sharing good practice between programmes and for making changes to strengthen the organisation. We were able to provide some very strong evidence about what is working well in Street League, particularly about how much young people feel they are being helped by the programme and the specific skills and knowledge they feel that they are gaining.

As outsiders, we were also able to hear about some of the challenges and to speak candidly and confidentially with the delivery and management teams as well as the participants. This allowed us to gain insights that might not be available to insiders. We are also able to provide organisations with a summary of relevant research and reports which can provide insights and help with future planning.

What were the main recommendations?

One of the key recommendations was to find ways to share good practice between programmes and provide programme teams with opportunities to share their experiences with each other. Many of the programme teams are quite small and would enjoy and benefit from the opportunity to engage with other individuals experiencing similar challenges.

Street League attracts young people with many challenges in their life including mental health and learning difficulties which can impact the learning environment in the academy. It would be helpful for delivery staff to have more training in teaching and supporting the diverse group of young people engaged in the programme.

Time was a challenge for all of the programmes, but almost everyone felt that young people needed more one-on-one time embedded into the programme.

We recommended that Street League might want to consider implementing even more variety in the sports on offer. It is challenging as football is seen as a key part of SL’s success and it is attractive to many young people. However, the inclusion of dance-fit has also worked for some individuals who would not have been as interested in football.              

What were you most impressed by?

I was very impressed by the dedication of the staff and their knowledge of and commitment to the aims of Street League. They were very committed to helping young people, very caring and able to create sport/learning environments that young people responded to enthusiastically.

I was also very impressed by some of the innovative activities that were created that combined sport and employability skills. For example, using salsa to teach about making eye contact in interviews. Or, having young people practice their leadership and presentation skills by delivering warm-up sessions in football. In the academies, young people were encouraged to match a footballer's skills to a job description to gain insight into what employers look for on a CV.

I was also impressed by the young people and how well they were able to articulate the range of personal, social and employability skills they had developed during their time on the programme. We heard some very inspiring success stories during our research. 

We would like to express a sincere thank you to Dr. Laura Hills, Dr. Emma Wainwright, Ms. Tarryn Steenekamp, and Ms. Nicola Crawley for the time invested in this evaluation of Street League. We have taken on board all of the recommendations suggested, and have an action plan in place to ensure continuous improvement in our programmes and impact on young people.

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