North East Lincolnshire Council

Overcoming challenging behaviour through sport

Enabling all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives


North East Lincolnshire has high levels of crime and below average health. The council initiated the Sport Lincs project in 2007 to divert young people in Immingham away from gang culture through football.

It quickly developed into a multi-agency response to crime and anti-social behaviour hotspots throughout the borough. And it has offered young people alternative lifestyle choices. Young people have gained qualifications and full-time work through the project and anti-social behaviour has reduced significantly.


Without life skills, readiness for work and educational achievement, young people will be unable to fulfil their full potential and take control of their lives. Support in skills development for work and training, management of relationships, and advice on subjects like substance misuse, pregnancy and parenting are vital.

North East Lincolnshire is an area of high deprivation. Life expectancy, early deaths from heart disease and stroke, and levels of smoking, obesity and teenage pregnancy are all worse than the England average. Long-term unemployment is high and crime and anti-social behaviour are among the highest in England, in some areas in the top one per cent. Young males aged 13 to 17 years are the main offenders.

In 2007 the formation of a gang dramatically increased crime and anti-social behaviour in Immingham. Youth drinking and an emerging gang culture in other parts of the borough were causing similar problems elsewhere. Anti-social behaviour and youth crime quickly escalated and became widespread across the borough.

Sport Lincs engages young people involved in anti-social behaviour or at risk of offending in sports and arts activities. Activities take place in hotspot areas at times when calls for the police are normally at their peak.

A multi-agency team of youth workers, sports coaches, police and community support officers operates in each location. They use the activities as vehicles to challenge young people's behaviour and encourage them to make decisions that will improve their long-term prospects.

Around 1,000 challenging young people participate each week and several hundred take part in monthly tournaments.

Who was involved?

The four main partners delivering Sport Lincs are:

  • Humberside Police
  • sports and arts development service
  • young people's support service
  • Grimsby Town Football Club.

Senior managers from the partner organisations took the decision to pursue a truly integrated approach by pooling resources. They believed this would be the best way to deliver a large-scale project that would achieve what all four partners wanted individually and collectively.

The four partners pool the grants they secure from external sources. In 2010/11 this amounted to £450,000. They also pool some core budgets and staff.

Many other organisations are involved from the public, private and community and voluntary sectors. They help to run workshops and awareness training, or linking the project into their own youth work.

The problem and how it was tackled

The main challenge with this project is to get young people engaged and keep them involved. This can then help them turn their lives around through employment, education and training.

Understanding barriers to engagement

Past attempts in North East Lincolnshire to engage with challenging young people as a way of reducing anti-social behaviour and youth crime have failed. Each agency had previously delivered its own activity programmes, all with different referral mechanisms. Provision was often at the wrong time or on the wrong day.

Partners realised they needed a better understanding of what else was stopping these young people from getting involved. Police officers and youth engagement workers talked to gang leaders across the borough. Staff from the young people's support service also got feedback through face-to-face conversations with individuals and groups of young people, and online.

The findings showed that:

  • the young people's disruptive behaviour meant they were unable to engage with mainstream services such as leisure centres, schools or sports clubs
  • many young people lacked basic equipment, transport or money to do anything because of an absence of parental support
  • the more challenging young people had low self-esteem and a feeling of worthlessness
  • many had low aspirations and were on the verge of being excluded from school.

Getting young people engaged

The young people wanted something to do to occupy their time. Activities needed to be structured, rewarding and challenging to get them engaged and keep them involved.

Sport Lincs provides activities young people say they want. The target group of 13 to 17-year-old males is interested in football so this was introduced first.

Street dance for teenage girls was soon added and other arts activities developed later to broaden the appeal.

Sport Lincs now runs a network of 51 sports academies every week offering football, street dance or street cricket.

Mobile street patrols identify young people at risk and signpost them to activities in their area. Once the ringleaders get involved their peers quickly follow.

Keeping young people involved

To give the young people goals they can aim for and to keep them interested, Sport Lincs established a monthly Fair Play Football League. This brings together 18 teams from football academies across the borough to compete.

More than 100 young people attended the first tournament in 2007. The two top teams played an exhibition match at Grimsby Town FC's home ground. Within two years numbers at the tournament had trebled.

Teams are expected to play in the spirit of respect and fair play. Points are deducted for bad behaviour and language, which helps to improve conduct.

A competitive element was introduced for young females as well. The street dance academies organised a monthly dance-off to coincide with the Fair Play Football League.

Increasing employment, education and training

Helping young people with problems to turn their lives around is an integral part of the project. Sport Lincs challenges behaviour and helps young people make positive decisions about their lifestyles and futures.

Young people are encouraged to work towards accreditations to improve their behaviour and life chances. They have gained qualifications:

  • in basic and social skills like numeracy and communication
  • aimed at reducing risky behaviour, for example, in conflict resolution, sexual health and drug awareness
  • in sports coaching and refereeing.

A modern apprenticeship scheme offers training and employment opportunities in mainstream sport and leisure careers.

Young people who show promise through their behaviour at the sports academies are encouraged to demonstrate their commitment through volunteering. They can then go on to become Apprentice Community Sports Coaches, which enables them to gain work experience and qualifications.

Some have progressed to full-time employment with the council's sport and arts development service and Grimsby Town FC.

Outcomes and impact

In the four years to March 2011, 4,700 young people have got involved in the project. They have:

  • registered nearly 72,000 attendances
  • achieved more than 7,200 ‘recorded outcomes', such as participation in anger management sessions and chlamydia screening
  • gained almost 480 accreditations.

Humberside Police are clear that the project has had a significant impact on youth-related crime and disorder. Youth anti-social behaviour alone has fallen by 41 per cent over the four years. They have commissioned detailed analysis of the savings attributable to Sport Lincs, expected to run to tens of millions of pounds.

Former prolific offenders, now Apprentice Community Sports Coaches, speak highly of Sport Lincs.

"The project has given me a huge chance to make something out of myself and I have the chance to make a difference in the community of the North East Lincolnshire area."

"I thought people like me just don't get a chance like this. I have no GCSEs and I have been in a lot of trouble with the law which I am ashamed of ... I am in the best job I could have hoped for."

Key learnings

Leadership and determination from the four main agencies have been key to success. The project is delivered in true partnership. By pooling budgets and staff, partners can make better use of existing resources to support an extensive network of activities.

Sport Lincs has achieved large-scale impact by rolling out a successful pilot. It replicated the model first used on a housing estate in Immingham in every location in the borough identified as having similar problems.

The project has a high profile and cross-party political support. At ward level councillors provide intelligence on local problems and use delegated budgets to support activity. At a strategic level senior councillors provide valuable advocacy.

Gaining the support of local communities has been important. Around 500 volunteers operate within the project and several of the academies are now run by community groups.

What could have been done better?

Differences of opinion have emerged on how to deal with young people who re-offend while involved in the project. Calls for them to be banned have been resisted as this could make them harder to reach and at greater risk of re-offending.

Next steps

To ensure Sport Lincs continues, the council's sports and arts development service, young people's support service and Humberside Police have:

  • mainstreamed some posts originally created using time-limited external funding
  • integrated responsibilities for the project into their core business.

The project's success in helping change the culture among young people means it will focus in future on prevention rather than diversion.

Further information

Mark Cullum, Project Manager – Sport and Leisure Development
North East Lincolnshire Council

The Marmot Review website

North East Lincolnshire Health Profile 2011 – on the Public Health Observatories website


13 February 2013

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