Boxing legend and mental health campaigner Frank Bruno MBE was in Bartlett Park, Poplar, on 6 June to endorse a sports mentoring programme that is helping unemployed young people from tough London housing estates get their lives back on track.
The former heavy weight world champion was joined by Tower Hamlets Cabinet Member Cllr Sabina Akhtar and 15 young Londoners as they celebrated graduating from the Street Elite project.
Run by The Change Foundation, with support from the Berkeley Foundation this nine-month sports-themed training for work initiative has now engaged with 400 unemployed young Londoners - with 84% of those who complete the programme successfully moving into education or employment.
15 Street Elite graduates have been employed by the Berkeley Group.
The scheme's qualified sports coaches work closely with local authorities, like Tower Hamlets, to recruit disengaged young people who are classified as Not in Education, Employment of Training (NEET). Many have been excluded from school, in trouble with the police or on the fringes of gangs.
Yasin, a 2018/19 graduate said: "Before Street Elite I was just hanging around outside on the street doing nothing with my time or sitting at home watching TV bored. Since joining Street Elite, I have enjoyed making new friends and have something positive to focus on. After Street Elite I'd like to go back to playing regular sports and I'm looking to get into accountancy."
Frank Bruno MBE said: "I grew up in London. It can be a tough city and talented young people can go off the tracks. Street Elite is about giving them a focus and real self-belief.
"It's a life-changing project and shows the huge power of sport and mentoring. Together they can strengthen your mind, your self-esteem and connect you with other people. It's important for young men to come together and talk openly about their wellbeing."
Rob Perrins, Chief Executive of the Berkeley Group, said: "Street Elite targets young people who have been left behind. It uses the power of sport to reengage them and build their self-belief. It changes lives and it helps employers like Berkeley recruit talented young people who bring a whole new dimension to their business."
Navjeet Sira, Director of Design and Impact at The Change Foundation, said: "Since starting Street Elite in 2012, we've helped hundreds of young people. We have a very high success rate when it comes to getting graduates into work or further education because our qualified sports coaches work hard on the ground in the heart of the local community for nine months at a time. The work they do is more than a job, it is a lifestyle, and I cannot commend them highly enough."
Government figures show 467,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in January to March 2019, giving an unemployment rate of 10.8% for this age group.
According to the ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment, youth unemployment is expected to cost the UK taxpayer an estimated £28bn between 2012 and 2022.
The group from Tower Hamlets, aged 18 to 24, were recruited through walk-arounds on local housing estates or referred by previous Street Elite graduates who have felt the benefits of the course first hand. After nine months on the course, they are now running sport sessions in their community.
The graduation event was marked by a sports festival in Bartlett Park, attended by hundreds of local school children, many of whom have taken part in the graduates' practice sessions.
The Street Elite model was first developed by The Change Foundation and the Berkeley Foundation in 2012.
Find out more about Street Elite online.