Golden opportunity

Golden opportunity

Neil Cameron of social enterprise Sport Works looks at how the Olympic and Paralympic legacy can inspire people and drive business forward through sport.

As a former elite athlete, sport science lecturer and elite trainer I’ve witnessed the power sport has to motivate and engage. I’ve built a social enterprise, Sport Works, which uses sport to reach young people, founded on this premise.

As a result I can say with certainty that it would be hard to overstate the impact Team GB’s successes in London 2012 and Rio 2016 will have had on the collective psyche of the UK. It’s how we now harness fantastic sporting endeavour and recognition and translate that into all areas of society that is the real test.

Team GB’s recent triumph in Rio has not only demonstrated the talent and determination of British athletes, it has been particularly inspirational to the North East. Who could forget Amy Tinkler from Bishop Auckland, what a fantastic performance on the floor, securing a bronze medal in women’s gymnastics as the youngest member of Team GB? Or Matt Wylie’s nail biting gold medal performance in the 50m freestyle, where the Sunderland Paralympian won by a fingertip?

Overall, 30 athletes from the North East competed in Rio 2016, contributing towards the final medal count of 67 in the Olympics and 147 in the Paralympics – with the GB Paralympic team winning a grand total of 64 gold medals, the most by a British team since 1988.

Although there has been a lot of discussion and some controversy surrounding the Olympics in recent years, such as the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs and the perception of disappointing sporting take up figures post 2012, hosting the Olympics was definitely a defining moment for British sport and saw an increased interest in sport for children and adults of all abilities.

It’s important to remember that it wasn’t just competitors inspired by London 2012. We saw more people wanting to become coaches, more people wanting to become trainers and more people wanting to work in sport in general, a factor which I believe greatly contributed towards Team GB’s success in Rio 2016.

Aside from the obvious health benefits of regular exercise, sport can teach young people vital employability skills needed in any industry, such as resilience, team work, communication and problem solving. Sport Works own traineeships focus on these employability skills while engaging young people in sport.

With many young people failing to get a job through lack of experience or being unable to relate to classroom teaching, Sport Works uses sport to engage young people of all abilities by delivering an educational Traineeship with work experience that is focused on developing the skills and experience that employers are looking for.

I’ve been fortunate to work with some of sports’ greats and experienced what is required mentally to succeed, or cope with failure, at the very highest level. But at Sport Works we’re not looking for the next gold medal winner, we simply want to help young people from the region gain the qualification and experiences they wouldn’t have previously considered possible.

Relating the successes of local Olympians and Paralympians directly to the skills we’re instilling through our programmes makes a career in sport a reality for the youths that we work with, with many of our participants now looking forward to future careers as sports coaches, personal trainers and gym instructors among others.

It has also become clear that the London legacy has paved the way for businesses looking to get involved in sport. It has done this by inspiring and engendering change, effectively upskilling young people by addressing their mindset and shifting their mental approach. The effect of this is for young people to become more determined, ambitious and willing to work in a team, elements that provide the benefit for the business community of a more motivated and capable workforce to draw on.

In May this year Sport England, the organisation tasked with increasing sporting inclusion, released their new, much anticipated, strategy. It boldly stated that they are willing to work with any organisation to directly target the high number of inactive people in society at large. This addresses issues of health such as obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and other lifestyle related conditions which ultimately alleviate pressure on stretched NHS services and can be directly linked to a post-Olympic bounce as people try to emulate their heroes.

Additionally, the government’s recent announcement of their Work and Health programme, that specifically targets longer term unemployed people, is investing £130m a year nationally in programmes aimed at improving the lives of many, with a focus on the most vulnerable. This opens up the opportunities for businesses who can support government in halving the disability employment gap of 33%. The government programme incentivises people to become more healthy as they work toward achievable personal goals.

There is recognition regionally and nationally that a major barrier to employment is poor health both physical and mental. Getting people healthy as part of their road back to employment is an area that is intrinsically linked to being inspired through sporting achievement.

This is good news for businesses in the region as the more young people who are inspired to follow a career in sport and reap the benefits playing and studying sport can offer, the more work ready candidates they will have to fill their positions. Not only have Team GB excelled in their fields, they have inspired a new generation of young people to embark upon a career in sport and if not sport, a career in general.

Who is Neil Cameron?

Neil Cameron is a former elite athlete who now runs North East based social enterprise Sport Works. At 34 years old, he has already had a long and distinguished career in the sports industry having competed as a professional athlete in the long jump, becoming a sports science lecturer at just 21 and an elite performance manager for England Athletics at Gateshead International Stadium. 

Neil now focuses his efforts on engaging young people through sport with Sport Works, offering qualifications in sport for young people of all abilities from their head office in Newcastle and nationwide with a franchise network. The business has recently moved into delivering Government-backed Traineeships and Apprenticeships and is looking to the business community to support its programmes.