Not all young people thrive in the model of traditional schooling in England.

The model of 9am to 3pm every day, in uniform, following a set timetable and, usually, sitting exams every summer. It is a very structured approach to learning which has been in place for decades, longer even, but that doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

For many, many different reasons (which it feels unfair to list in case we are in danger of pigeon-holing and creating unnecessary stereotypes) some school-age children do not fit into the school system.

And then what?

Well, in some larger towns and cities across the country, there is a good amount of provision in place – alternative arrangements for these young people to learn and development in different environments. Liverpool Football Club Foundation’s Onside programme, for example, developed in-conjunction with Merseyside Police, is a three year project to engage with students and provide them with key skills, confidence and the resilience needed to overcome obstacles and choose the right pathways in life.

But what about here in Shropshire?

Sadly, rural areas are lacking in the provision of the more urban towns and cities, and so while the issue is just as prevalent as in Liverpool or Birmingham etc, the much needed alternatives are simply not there. And the result of this is more and more young people finding themselves at risk of exclusion, or worse still, out of school completely.

So, when the opportunity arose to bid for funding for a pilot project to deliver innovative and potentially sustainable provision in our county, Energize, along with Shropshire Council, were extremely keen to get involved.

The ‘Life Chances’ project is a three year project with Shropshire local authority area as one of 16 pilots nationally. Funding will come initially from a national partner, but the remaining funding will be based on achievement of agreed outcomes and come from three sources: the Life Chances project through national organisation Substance, Sport England, and Shropshire Council.

The project is innovative in several ways. Firstly, the social investment bond funding model which provides much needed up front seed funding to fund the community organisation to get the project started which is then repaid by ‘investors’ (in this case Shropshire Council and Sport England) after certain social outcomes have been achieved.  It can take some time for prevention projects such as this to prove their worth so trialling a social investment bond model in Shropshire is quite important – we're not aware of another in the area.  Secondly and probably more importantly, Energize’s role in bringing together the different national and local organisations to make this possible, and linking with progressive local boxing club, Bright Star, based in Shifnal to further develop local people and community provision – which we hope will be sustained well beyond the three years of the social investment bond.

Energize have been working with Bright Star for some years now and have been helping them to develop the skills and experience to help young people find their path in life with great success. During this time, they’ve gone from being a voluntary start up sports club to a social enterprise now employing two full time and several part-time staff - all with Energize support and guidance along the way. 

A key part of this project will also be that they are working in partnership with other community groups to share their experience and help them to be able to offer a wider range or appropriate activities and support for the young people involved with their Futures programme. It is the depth of the programme, the commitment of the experienced Bright Star team and the network that Energize hope to help them to build which give huge confidence for the sustainability of this project way beyond the three year funding agreed from 2021.

To date, there are 40 young people on the Bright Star Futures programme, attending sessions one day a week where sport, education, and mentoring – from coaches who all have lived experience of exploitation and / or mental health struggles – are used to make a positive impact on their lives.

The ultimate goals of programme are to re-engage the young people back into mainstream education, reduce the risk of future exclusion, reduce the risk of offending behaviour, increase the chance of employability, and improve overall mental health.

A couple of months in Bright Star Director Joe Lockley told us what one of the young people has said about the programme:

“I thought I was stupid because I wasn’t doing well at school, Now I can see I can use my skills in different ways and there are things that I can be great at.”

We look forward to sharing more about the progress of this fantastic project and the positive impact for all the young people involved over the coming months.