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Coach Core is an employment and education charity

Coach Core is an employment and education charity that uses the long-term power of sport and apprenticeships to change the lives of young adults across the UK who traditionally experience barriers, discrimination and lack of opportunities.

The Royal Foundation started the Coach Core programme in 2012, in the wake of the London Riots and to contribute to the legacy of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

10 years on (and celebrating that anniversary) the now-independent charity has supported 726 young people onto community sports coaching apprenticeships, helping them overcome disadvantages, to start meaningful careers, re-engage with education and increase activity levels in their local areas.

Celebrations this year will include several firsts for the charity: a VIP meet-and-greet, the release of an academic study of the programme and a retrospective piece on the very first Coach Core programme. 

The charity now looks ahead to the next 10 years, with a new line up of ambassadors taking the baton from Their Royal Highnesses, a 5-year agreement in place with Sport England to become a systemic partner of change, and a bold strategy that speaks to the levelling up agenda and ultimately sets out to change more lives than ever before. 

Coach Core CEO Gary Laybourne said: 

“As a coach since the age of 17, growing up in tough communities where sport is your main escape, I know first-hand the hugely positive effects of sport and mentorship on influencing a young person’s life. I’ve had the privilege of launching and shaping Coach Core from the outset and I couldn’t be prouder of the young people who have come through our programmes and gone on to make a difference in the next generation’s lives.  

Thanks to Their Royal Highnesses, in 2012 we were given this unique opportunity to grow a single project in London, shaped by community coaches ‘on the ground’, and then scale it to meet the needs of young people and employers locally in multiple sites across the UK.  Observing the charity’s continual growth over the last 10 years has been humbling and we have been able to make a lasting impact on so many young lives as well as nearly 200 sport-for-good employers too. But there is much more to work for us to do, and we are committed to providing even more accessible, life-changing opportunities through Apprenticeships and sport” 

The Covid-19 pandemic reinforced the dramatic benefits of sport and activity for physical and mental health. Yet according to Sport England figures, under-represented groups – people living in deprived areas, women, those from ethnically diverse communities – are still less likely to be active. As grassroots coaches drawn from these communities, Coach Core apprentices are best placed to develop and deliver activity programmes that engage participants, and to become relatable role models. 

To date, Coach Core apprentices have delivered 593,860 sessions to an estimated 8,314,040 session participants. 

The charity has worked with 187 different youth, sports and physical-activity organisations across the country to provide these apprenticeship placements, including Premier League football clubs, youth centres, the National Trust, trampolining facilities and boxing gyms. By part-funding these organisation’s apprentices Coach Core has helped them develop diverse and dynamic workforces, increasing their resilience and the sector’s ability to deliver sessions to the people who need it most.

Coach Core apprentices complete Level 2 and 3 Apprenticeships in the sport-for-good space. They work 30 paid hours a week, which includes a day of education. This blend of formal training with real work means the apprentices are equipped with the knowledge, skills and experiences to move on to a number of career pathways, inside and outside of the sports industry. Those that don’t have GCSE Maths or English are trained and supported to pass assessments equivalent to those – key qualifications for future employment.  

80% of Coach Core apprentices pass the apprenticeship, against a national average of 58%. 

The Social Mobility Commission’s recent ‘State of the Nation’ report highlighted that: “widening access to university has not brought the dividends many hoped for, and has diverted attention away from the 50% that pursue other routes.” This emphasises the importance of charities like Coach Core, which are dedicated to social mobility for young people not focused on following an academic pathway to a career with passion and purpose.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, and the cost-of-living crisis have both impacted people’s ability to give, and like many charities, Coach Core has found fundraising harder in the last few years. This in turn affects the charity’s growth ambitions operationally, and from a capacity point of view. The organisation sees an opportunity to expand into more regions of the UK, and to restructure its programmes to reach even more of its target audience: women, people with disabilities, those from ethnically diverse groups and those living in areas of deprivation. These groups, historically under-represented, will see the biggest positive impact from programmes like Coach Core.

Coach Core recently commissioned a piece of independent academic research to better understand the impact of their work.  Written by Dr Haydn Morgan (University of Bath) and Will Roberts (University of Waikato, NZ), the study interviewed Coach Core apprentices either on, or who had completed, the L2 Community Activator Coach qualification.

Three key findings from the study were:

1. How important apprenticeships are to re-engage young people with employment and education

“The young adults we spoke to were often economically inactive or we not engaged with formal systems of employment. The Coach Core apprenticeship was often pivotal in their re-engagement with formal systems”
– Morgan & Roberts

This speaks to the importance of the general breadth of apprenticeship qualifications, offering people the chance to train at something they feel passionate about, when they may have disengaged with school. Coach Core’s focus on sport and our work with Lifetime Training to ‘de-classroom’ the education part of the apprenticeship are proving effective at engaging young people.

2. That the apprenticeship enabled young people to remain within local areas; they do not need to move away to obtain employment and training

A local apprenticeship enables those who aren’t able or willing to leave their current residence to access the opportunities that will enable them to flourish. It also increases the amount of skilled people in the region, and for Coach Core apprentices, sets them up to become role models for the children they work with. This strongly aligns with the Government’s Levelling Up agenda, to end geographical inequality.

“I thought I’d have to go away [to get a job in sport], but now I’ve got a job in my local area, where I grew up, I want to stick here and provide the next generation [with] opportunities”

– Dan, Leeds

3. That a mentor is a significant factor in the development of personal skills and the overall success of the apprenticeship

“Many of the participants picked up on this key role as part of their training journey, specifically identifying this role as key to their development and ability to flourish”
– Morgan & Roberts

In particular, respondents noted that their Learning Coach (responsible for delivering the education side of the apprenticeship) was a key figure, in both a formal and informal sense, utilising their skills as an experienced guide:

“He’s absolutely amazing, anything you need, you know, he’ll message you…anything that I might be struggling on, he’ll say ‘well is it better that you approach it this way?’ I see him as a friend rather than a teacher… After I finish with the National Trust I think I could [pick up the phone to my learning coach]”
– Lucy, Tyne & Wear

The overall findings from the study were that apprenticeships were an important and effective tool to create the social changes that Coach Core are trying to effect, and that the Coach Core programme provides a positive experience for those on it.

In 2022 Coach Core became one of Sport England’s System Partners, working together to tackle inequalities in sport and physical activity. This long-term commitment from Sport England will help ensure that Coach Core can continue to change even more lives, in more ways, and in more places in the coming years. Part of the charity’s plans include diversifying the apprenticeship qualifications it offers, and working with sports’ National Governing Bodies. Recently it announced partnerships with England Boxing and British Cycling to help them create and deliver apprenticeships across the country.

Thinking about the success Coach Core has had so far, particularly since becoming an independent charity as the pandemic hit, Gary reflects:

“There is no conventional route to being a CEO; it requires so many skills and experiences that as long as you have the passion and belief for what you do, you can absolutely become a leader. As someone who had never led a major national project before, I upskilled myself by adopting my coaching philosophy that training doesn’t just mean courses and certificates; I grabbed my notebook and learnt from top education figures, marketing directors, charity leads, etc to better improve my knowledge. I also sat with my team to ask what sort of leader they want, how can I make them part of the journey and also gauge what support they would need as we set up on our own. This was just as powerful, if not more, and once again is something as a coach I’ve always understood is the best way to improve – listen to those you are trying to develop and support; don’t just talk at them. Overall, for me leadership is about being brave; make as informed a call as you can and try to move forwards as I’d rather do that and fail than get caught standing still.”

Nataly Komova
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