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Safe spaces in sport vital for the prevention of youth knife crime – new study

Safe spaces provided by sporting clubs and community initiatives are vital for the prevention of youth knife crime, a Loughborough University study has found.

Researchers highlighted that such spaces provide young people at risk of knife crime a stable environment in which they can develop themselves and interact safely with mentors and others without fear of judgement or personal harm.

Additionally, findings showed that it provides individuals with the stability and protection they would otherwise not have in their lives.

The report also details the importance of understanding the reasoning behind why youths may be of risk and vulnerable to knife crime. This goes beyond the physical place where they live – the postcode – but also details the social, economic, emotional, and psychological ‘place’ they are in.

The two-phase research programme, conducted by Dr Holly Collison-Randall, Professor Aaron Smith, and PhD student Anna Farello, targeted selected sports programmes in the UK via surveys and in-depth virtual interviews with coaches and managers of six such projects across London boroughs.

Knife crime continues to rise across the UK with statistics showing 46,300 offences recorded in the year to March 2020. In addition, knife crime murders in under-eighteens sadly reached a record 30 victims in London alone in 2021.

Dr Holly Collison-Randall, Senior Lecturer at the Institute for Sport Business, at Loughborough University London, explained:

“The research highlighted the incredible personal commitment and passion of local coaches and individuals who wanted to positively respond to the violent cultures surrounding them in their communities.

“Sport, in its various forms, provided a mechanism for creating relative safety within the streets, parks, and estates that were simultaneously the sites for knife crime.

“Sport programmes are a positive disruptive force in the lives of young people. The programmes capable of providing disruptive development had four elements: knowledge of the place that contains driving factors towards knife crime and violence; sustaining and investing in the safe space that sports programmes provide; advocating and strategically implementing sport itself as a radical, positive disruption; and leveraging from hyper-local specificity of a programme. Collectively, the four elements encourage the best chance of impact.

“The Positive Disruptive Development through Sport model is therefore not a prescriptive formula to tackle knife crime through sport, but a flexible model that allows for hyperlocal specificity, in local spaces for local populations.”

Dr Collison-Randall’s experience and research into the use of sport as a post-conflict development intervention saw her selected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as a senior consultant.

She produced the first technical and practical guide on ‘Preventing Violent Extremism through Sport’ and was also selected to guide the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) on using sports programmes to tackle violence and knife crime.

For more information on the study, click HERE.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/74

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.