England Netball has partnered with the Met Police for a second consecutive year to tackle youth violence in Croydon through a year-long netball initiative.
The initiative, Beyond the Court, is aimed at positively engaging girls at risk of falling into the criminal justice system or gang grooming.
Pioneered by Lucy Goodman, Regional Officer for England Netball’s London and South East, the project is the first of its kind specifically combating the lack of sports engagement initiatives for young women across London.
Using netball as a vehicle for positive and sustained change, the founding principles of Beyond the Court draw on values central to netball: purpose, resilience, leadership and belonging.
Goodman said: “We thought we can’t just do a little drop in the ocean.
“We thought let’s do something longer term that’s really meaningful, really sustainable and really impactful.
“We really believe this could be a world leader in terms of a youth engagement programme specifically for girls in partnership with a police service.”
Four netball and three police activity days, centred on the four founding principles, aim to empower participants to engage in a positive outlet and boost their physical and mental wellbeing.
The pilot, which launched in June 2021 and was a finalist for a London Sport Award, included 35 girls from Croydon – all identified and referred by the Met – who had been involved in local crime or anti-social behaviour.
Netball franchise London Pulse contributed to the programme by providing elite athletes from the Vitality Netball Super League team to meet and coach the girls.
Goodman said: “If there’s one thing I’d like any young woman or girl to understand, it’s that they have a place in netball. No matter your age, ability, ethnicity, life stage. There is a place for you.”
Being a ‘netballer’ is not a prerequisite for participation, although Goodman acknowledged the level of talent could see some girls break into county or franchise pathways.
Despite uncertain future funding circumstances, the project has strong links with local clubs including CMO Netball, where girls can continue their netball journey after the scheme ends.
Goodman said: “Ideally it would be netball, that’s the dream.
“But just to get girls active, in any way – we know teenage girls experience the highest dropout rates from sport – if we can facilitate ways of staying active in any form, then job done.
“If it’s netball, then even better. We want the girls to adopt netball as a game for life.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short time, and the potential for it – we’re not even close to where Beyond the Court could be.
“The interest to expand it with the Met is there, the interest to expand it with the girls is there, we just need the money and backing on board to help us to roll it out on a bigger scale.”
It was a chance phone call from PC Rick Flynn of the Croydon Youth Engagement Team – who was handling a case involving a young netball enthusiast – which provided the catalyst for the pilot over two years ago now.
Breaking down barriers between young people and the police is a central motivation of Beyond the Court.
PC Flynn said: “We know that’s something that exists if we’re being honest with ourselves.”
Referring to recent high-profile cases from within the Met – including the arrest of Wayne Couzons after Sarah Everard’s death – PC Flynn acknowledged the difficulty of dealing with negative press.
He added: “The tragic loss of Elianne Andam rocked us to our core. She was the first female victim of knife crime, the first that was not affiliated with a gang.
“She wasn’t looking for trouble. She wasn’t in trouble. She wasn’t in a gang. Trouble found her. It really affected the department and officers who attended the scene.”
“It’s really important we continue Beyond The Court. We have to make young females feel safe on the streets of Croydon.
“We have to show them they can trust the police.”
Collaborations with the Amy Winehouse Foundation and the British Army hone team-building and communication skills, alongside helping the Met support the girls in a non confrontational way.
In 2021, before the first pilot, Croydon was labelled the youth homicide capital due to its prolific knife crime rates, but ended 2022 with no teenage deaths from knife crime.
Beyond The Court is working to dismantle misconceptions of the police, with every participant – girl or Met officer – wearing the same branded Nike t-shirt to emphasise the collective nature of the programme.
Since the pilot, PC Flynn has gained his level 1 coaching qualification and competes in match play alongside the girls at the Royal Russell School in Croydon, who offer their facilities free of charge.
PC Flynn has also had inquiries from West Yorkshire and Devon Police about expanding the scheme beyond London.
Beyond The Court will return for a third time in March 2024.
Featured image credit: Ben Lumley / England Netball