07 March 2019

The president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Lord Sebastian Coe, backed new plans to help combat rising youth crime in London as he officially opened the new headquarters of the UN-accredited charity, the Youth Charter, at the University of East London's (UEL) Stratford campus.

I am here today to support the 26 years of Youth Charter work and proposals to provide young people, especially those caught up through the lack of sporting, artistic and cultural activity, in the negative lifestyle choices that lead to drugs, violence, gang-related activity and, in some cases, extremism.

"The most powerful social worker is sport. We know that sport organisations create an anchor in young people and offer many more opportunities. I salute the University of East London and the Youth Charter,"

Lord Sebastian Coe, president of the IAAF, said.

The University of East London and the Youth Charter are partners in the pioneering Social Coach Leadership Programme (SCLP), a structured development programme which trains existing youth professionals and role model volunteers with the language, tools and engagement strategies to deliver sports, arts and socially based activities for young people aged between 10 and 19.

More than 300 students from UEL have already been recruited to volunteer at least two hours of social coaching a week, and hundreds more will undertake training in May.

The Chairman of the Youth Charter, Geoff Thompson, said, “We aim to tackle educational non-attainment, health inequality, anti-social behaviour and the negative effects of crime, drugs, gang related activity and racism by applying the ethics of sporting and artistic excellence. Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter. 

"We are confident that our new social coach leadership programme will help to save lives on the streets of the Capital. There's talk of 10,000 extra police officers needed on the streets. I am asking for 10,000 social coaches. I believe our social coaches can reduce crime a lot quicker than 'stop and searches' by the police."

UEL Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Amanda Broderick, said, "Our mission at UEL is to empower students to create their future, nurturing and encouraging and supporting them in an ever-changing world. The opening of this new Youth Charter office re-enforces our view that civic community will be at the heart of the University."

The UN-accredited charity will be based at its new home, the Youth Charter Dame Mary Glen Haig Office for Sport for Development and Peace, following a move from Manchester, where it was set up by Mr Thompson 26 years ago after the shooting of 14-year-old Benji Stanley in Moss Side.

The Youth Charter's key messages are that sport and the arts can be used to divert disaffected youth from crime, by building young people's self-confidence and skills, a message being taken on board by the government.

Lord Coe said, "The Youth Charter and the University of East London have created the biggest social coaches leadership programme in the UK, which will help save lives on the streets. We want to demonstrate that the UK is a creative, inclusive and welcoming place to live in, visit and do business."

The naming of the charity's office pays tribute to an influential Olympian, British fencer Dame Mary Alison Glen Haig, who helped to found the Youth Charter charity.

Dame Mary, who competed in four Olympic games in 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 in the women's individual foil events, was the founding trustee of the Youth Charter and served as chair of trustees, going on to become president for 23 years.

Following the official opening of the office, portraits of Dame Mary and the late Diane Leather Charles were unveiled by Lord Coe. The portraits will be displayed permanently in the University of East London's Great Hall. 

Diane Leather Charles was one of the UK's greatest athletes and campaigners for women's rights in sport. She broke the five-minute barrier in the mile only three weeks after the great Sir Roger Bannister achieved a similar feat and global recognition.

Special guests at the event included the families of Dame Mary Glen Haig and Diane Leather Charles, as well as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon OBE, a social justice activist who helped implement police reforms following the racially motivated murder of her son, Stephen. The Baroness spoke about the importance of working together in the community.

Speakers also included Shanea Oldham, a sixth-form student at St Bonaventure's School in Forest Gate, and engineering apprentice Elijah Sserunjogi.

Shanea and Elijah recounted their experiences of losing friends to street crime, and talked about how they have worked with other young people to help create positive change.

Shanea said, "I'd like to see more young people's voices heard and greater understanding of our culture. The Youth Charter will definitely help me to be better at effecting change."

Photo: Lord Coe (right) cuts the ribbon to open the new Youth Charter headquarters as Geoff Thompson, Baroness Lawrence and Professor Amanda Broderick (far left) look on.

Related topics