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UK Coaching Team
Rapport Building and Communicating Developing Mindsets Safety and Welfare Supporting Specific Needs Employer or Deployer

Coaching Project Offers Vulnerable Adults an Active Route to Recovery

The Challenge Through Sport Initiative (CSI) is a bespoke behaviour change project. Blake Richardson finds out more about the programme – initially set up for people in recovery from substance and alcohol misuse – from CSI Project Coordinator Jane Moodie

  • The intervention programme has been adapted to support people experiencing any challenging situation that impacts negatively on their mental and physical health.
  • Its key focus is to engage participants in physical activity to improve their long-term health and economic prospects.
  • The success of the project is down to its volunteers and support workers, who all have lived experience.

There was a lot of under-the-breath mumbling, some nervous shuffling and even a few audible gasps amongst the huddle of attentive attendees.

These animated emotions were in response to hearing some harrowing stories of families being torn apart, of bodies and spirits being systematically ground down and of thriving careers and livelihoods being thrown into downward spirals.

Of human beings staring into the abyss, as a result of poor choices, or sometimes sheer bad luck.

The frightening realities of addiction, of being trapped in a vicious cycle of crime, and of domestic violence and trauma, were brought into sharp focus by CSI Project Coordinator Jane Moodie in her 2019 UK Coaching Conference workshop.

But as distressing as these second-hand testimonies were to hear, ultimately, and hearteningly, it was only half the story. The unabridged version is one of hope and healing.

Thanks to the incredible work being done by the Active Partnerships project developed by Active Lancashire, Red Rose Recovery, Cumbria and Lancashire Community Rehabilitation Company, The Police and Crime Commissioner and Public Health Lancashire, countless vulnerable adults have succeeded in turning their troubled lives around.

Building the right workforce

CSI was born out of a meeting of those organisations five years ago, at which a significant gap was identified around offering activities for people recovering from substance and alcohol misuse.

The plan was to set up a project involving regular sporting activities for those in recovery, using physical activity as the catalyst for behaviour change.

The big question was, what should the workforce look like? The role would involve supporting people with complex needs, so what skills and knowledge would they need to make a positive difference?

A key focus of CSI is to develop in people those core elements that are lacking during their addiction: structure, routine, social inclusion, self-confidence, a sense of belonging and well-being, commitment, trust, responsibility, resilience and motivation.

To achieve that, everything hinges on volunteers and support workers being able to engage with participants, build instant rapport and earn their trust.

But possessing a relaxed attitude and manner, and being a good talker, is not enough. Participants must want to listen to what they have to say.

That is why our team have got lived experience, so they can relate to the participants, and the participants can relate to them. The success of the project is absolutely down to this type of peer support,” says Jane.

Think of the CSI model as a virtuous circle: People arrive through the door as participants, then they become volunteers and, if the positions are available, they are eventually employed as support workers, who inspire the next influx of participants. And the cycle repeats itself...

“If we can’t offer them employment then we will look for employment for them elsewhere,” adds Jane. “Usually the partnerships, community clubs and satellite clubs we work with can offer them a job. It may be just a part-time cleaning position but it’s a starting point. Bear in mind some have never been in employment before.”


Relatable role models

The phenomenally successful This Girl Can campaign has flourished on the back of the ‘people like me’ concept: women emboldened by seeing others who look like them and sound like them; who recite identical insecurities and experiences that had previously stood as emotional obstacles keeping them from exercising.

In the world of recovery, people also have a fear of being judged, lack self-confidence, are plagued by insecurities and, in many cases, lead an inactive lifestyle, having not played any sport since their school days.

Having relatable role models to talk to, and who can offer emotional support as well as practical support, facilitates the all-important process of building connections with people. And for the support workers, dealing with likeminded individuals makes it easier for them to truly understand a person’s needs, motivations and preferences – making up for any lack of coaching experience.

“We have support workers who visit schools and instantly connect with children with behavioural issues. They become intently focused on that person because all they want to do is pick their brains about their life story, their addiction, what they have been doing in prison etc. But while that conversation is going on, they are taking part in activities with them and are fully engaged – and learning new things.”

One step at a time

Jane vividly recalls one success story that epitomises the CSI maxim of ‘just turn up and play’.

“He was a recovering alcoholic and he turned up with the sole of one shoe hanging off and wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He had unkempt spiky blue hair, having come straight from a festival. It was a netball session and he was a bit hesitant because of what he was wearing. I just said, ‘Come on, you’re playing!’

We don’t want people thinking they have to have the proper kit. Turning up is the important thing, not turning up in the right clothing.

“As the weeks went on you could see his confidence start to grow. We said to him, ‘do you fancy doing the warm-up this week?’ And that became his role from that point on.

“After about six or seven weeks, he turned up one day with a pair of trainers on. A few weeks later he had a haircut. That progression was wonderful to see.”

But that is not the end of the story, by any means. The journey was complete when he went back to work, following an eight-year hiatus, and was reunited with his estranged family.

In sporting parlance, CSI uses a marginal gains approach: incremental improvements that add up to significant improvement over time.

As Martin Luther King Jr once said: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.”


Running the rule over club regulations

All this would not have been possible without an appreciation by project organisers that, to a certain extent, a relaxation of the rules is sometimes required.

We have to make things as simple as possible for people,” says Jane. “There cannot be too many policies and procedures, rules and regulations. They would put people off. They just want to come in, be themselves, socialise and do an activity and go home happy, not fill out loads of forms.

“If you start as soon as they walk in and you’re on them, you’ll lose them and they won’t come back.”

Jane and her team of 12 support workers and two project assistants deal with people with a range of complex emotional difficulties – from those recovering from drug and alcohol dependence to people with mental health issues, in social isolation, gambling addiction, ex-offenders and people born into a life of crime, the homeless, asylum seekers and refugees and domestic violence victims. 

If they feel they have a badge around their necks, then the programme will not so much break down barriers as place more barriers in their way.

“Organisations cannot have such strict tick boxes as it makes it difficult for us to work with them. For example, we are looking to get a lot of people we work with off benefits. Some are paranoid that any form they fill in is going to be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions [the government department responsible for welfare policy].”

Everyone included, everyone valued

The activities on offer either directly, or through link-ups with organisations, clubs and community groups throughout Lancashire, are boundless in variety.

Two of the most popular are table tennis sessions (“these always go down well as you can socialise while you play and get active”), and football groups (“we had a team who played in a local inclusion league. We do try and integrate people into everyday clubs and not just start our own hubs and clubs”).

Where possible, Jane strives to get the whole family actively involved. Bringing the family unit together in such a positive environment helps to build a joint version of the future in the minds of the parents and children.

“We organised some swimming sessions one time but it wasn’t very well attended because the adults couldn’t swim. So we linked up with Burnley Bobcats Swimming Club, who set up adult and kids ‘learn to swim’ lanes, and lanes for different ability levels.

“Because they were shown they are valued, and were given help to improve their confidence, some then filtered into the midweek sessions and ended up becoming members of a club they would never have thought to join. One of our members of staff is now a swim teacher and lifeguard and does some casual work at the leisure centre!

To see the transformation in people is incredible. A support worker – who is four years clean now, and who is absolutely amazing – said to me just the other day that one thing which helped him pull through his troubled times was that I believed in him and gave him hope. 

“It’s great to hear that the project is making a positive difference to people’s lives, and to know these people are now inspiring others to do the same.”

Related Resources

  • Reducing Physical Inactivity in Adults

  • Birmingham’s Blueprint for Behaviour Change

  • Patient and Understanding: The Coaches Supporting People to Turn Away from Crime


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