sporteducate and Track Academy have transformed Melanie's life
Track Academy by Connie Henry in Willesden is celebrating its contribution to a London-wide programme which has helped over 2,000 disadvantaged young people improve their employability.
By: Track Academy
The club has been part of sporteducate, a unique three and a half year programme which used sport to engage disadvantaged young people in educational activities outside of the classroom. The initiative was run by leading sports charity Sported in partnership with Deutsche Bank's Born to Be youth engagement programme.
Along with other community sports clubs, Track Academy designed and delivered their own sporteducate activities. The team drew on their intimate local knowledge, their personal networks and the trust between staff and volunteers to break down barriers to learning. They also helped to re-engage young people in their education, both inside and outside of school.
Young people on the programme also benefitted from regular supplementary education classes, mentoring from Deutsche Bank volunteers and unique learning opportunities. Track Academy as an organisation also received funding, training and free business mentoring support from these volunteers.
At Track Academy, the sporteducate programme has had a particularly transformative effect on 18-year-old Melanie (her name has been changed to protect her identity). The support system provided by the club has kept her in education and work, secured her a home and even made sure she stayed in the country.
Education and mentoring co-ordinator Janice Zeniou explained: "Through funding from the sporteducate programme, we have supported Melanie through a turbulent few years. When she was around 15, we noticed that she was becoming withdrawn at training. It transpired that due to some financial issues at home, she was worried about not being able to continue with us.
"So we developed a youth leadership programme for student athletes with barriers to access, allowing them to exchange work experience in lieu of fees. Melanie was then able to focus on her training and studying without worrying about money."
Volunteering at the charity, based at the Willesden Sports Centre, also gave Melanie lots of new skills. "I would help the coaches get the equipment they needed," said the teenager, who joined Track Academy when she was 13. "I'd also help train the kids, watching their time trials and helping them with their positioning. The kids started calling me coach which was really nice. I'm working towards a Level One coaching badge which I'm hoping to finish in March."
Around this time, things at home were proving to be very stressful for Melanie. Originally from the Caribbean, she was not enjoying a good relationship with her parents and, during her GCSE years, she was told that she was to be sent back to her country of birth. "When I realised my dad was serious, I was really
upset and told Janice," said Melanie. "She asked me lots of questions, and then some of the coaches came to my house to talk to my parents. The coaches explained that I had lots more opportunities here and persuaded them to let me stay."
This domestic turmoil affected Melanie's studies, and so she sought extra support from the Track Academy team. "I'd take along any work I was struggling with," she said. "I eventually passed my Maths and English GCSEs in year 13 with their help. I don't think I would have done it without them."
Unfortunately for the teenager, relations at home became increasingly strained, and when she turned 18 she was asked to leave the family home. "I had nowhere to go and I didn't know what to do," she said. "Track Academy did so much for me. They came with me to my school to explain what had happened, and helped me find accommodation through a charity for the homeless. They also gave me an administrative job at the academy which I did alongside my sixth form studies."
Despite having to travel from her temporary accommodation in south-east London to Willesden every day to complete her schoolwork, Melanie passed her course and secured a place at university. However, her troubles were still not over.
Janice explained: "Melanie could not access any financial help to attend university without the correct details in her passport. Employers were wary about taking on someone with questionable immigration status, and she could not access any benefits because she did not have a settled residential situation.
"Now homeless, out of education and employment, we worked very closely with her to help keep her within the fold. We didn't want to lose her. We supported her to complete immigration applications and set her up with a job in our office. We advised her to defer her university place until the following year when she would hopefully be more settled. We also worked to sort her housing situation which was complicated because of her immigration status."
She added: "Melanie has finally had her status settled, has secured a job in retail and will start university in September. During her gap year we have referred her to the England Athletics Young Achievers' Programme to build on her voluntary youth leadership. We are so proud of what she has achieved under such difficult circumstances.
"A big thank you goes to the sporteducate programme, for funding our work with Melanie and our other student athletes like her over the last three and a half years."
The teenager says Track Academy has been just invaluable. "They have been like a family to me," she said. "I don't know where I would be without them; I might not even be in the country. It's unbelievable how much they have helped me and I'm so grateful to them."
For more information about Track Academy, visit http://www.trackacademy.co.uk.