Kent Cricket Community Trust reflects on the First Change Programme

Friday 30th June 2023

Kent Cricket Community Trust reflects on the First Change Programme

Refugee Week 2023 may have finished, but the journey to find a place where so many people from so many countries escaping war, famine or persecution, can be accepted, continues. Many making this journey are young men and sometimes young girls on their own.

The County of Kent is at the forefront of receiving, processing, distributing and attempting to integrate refugees into the UK.

In partnership with Kent County Council (KCC) and 3rd Sector organisations such as Migrant Help and the Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN), together with Kent Police, Kent Cricket Community Trust (KCCT) is extremely proud of its First Change Programme which uses the power of cricket and the community that surrounds the sport, to provide a “constant” for refugees as they continue their journeys to find a new ‘home’ in the UK. This programme has been particularly successful with Afghan refugees and others arriving from the Indian Sub-continent.

Since late summer 2022, KCCT has been providing the following support to Afghan and other refugees arriving in Kent:

  • cricket coaching and training sessions to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) being resettled through KCC’s reception centres.
  • cricket taster and coaching sessions for young boys and girls housed with their families in KCC bridging hotels located near Canterbury.
  • welcoming older Afghan refugees (together with their families) to watch First Class Cricket at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury, which has helped their sense of being welcomed, through a mutual love of a sport familiar to them.

KCCT’s First Change Programme uses cricket to integrate refugees into UK society and to break down barriers (actual or perceived) that have often been reinforced through the way refugees, especially UASCs, have been treated by those in authority on their journeys to the UK.

We are particularly proud of how our First Change Programme has culminated in the following events in the lead up to, and during, Refugee Week 2023:

  1. Refugee Girls Cricket: through perseverance and by creating a respectful environment for the activities to take place, KCCT is providing weekly cricket coaching sessions to refugee girls aged between 14 – 19. Sixteen Afghan and Eritrean girls regularly attend these sessions in a safe space sourced by KCCT with the help of a local girl’s school and are coached by an all-female Kent Cricket coaching team. This engagement by communities that culturally, girls participation in sport can be limited. It is a major achievement and credit to the hard work and dedication of KCCT’s Trust Development Manager, Sarah Osborn, and Kent Cricket’s Senior Manager (Female & Disability Cricket), Helen Fagg. Local friendly Girls Soft-ball cricket fixtures being organised for later this season are a much-anticipated focus for these weekly training sessions.

Another highlight in the Refugee Girls Cricket calendar this year was when 12 girls provided the guard of honour for the teams coming onto the pitch during the South East Stars T20 Charlotte Edwards Cup fixture against the Central Sparks on 7th June 2023 at The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury. The girls’ involvement in this game and their chance to watch the thrilling 6 run victory by the South East Stars left a lasting impression on them, as shown by the letters received by KCCT expressing their thanks for being given the chance to be involved in the game.

KCCT Trust Development Manager, Sarah Osborn, said: “Initially the girls shrunk into the background when we visited the local Canterbury bridging hotels offering cricket taster sessions. Helen Fagg and I persevered and following further visits, the girls-only cricket sessions started; the enthusiasm of the refugee girls to take the opportunity offered to them to play cricket was a real pleasure to witness”.

  1. UASC coaching and T15 Tournament: Given the opportunity to have structured weekly coaching sessions with Kent Cricket Community Coaches, the Afghan boys at KCC’s two reception centres in Kent, leapt at the chance. In addition to the UASC Afghan boys, the squad was strengthened by the addition of three Afghan boys who have been lucky enough to be fostered within Kent and who are studying for East Kent College’s English as a Second Language (ESOL) Gateway qualification. To further demonstrate the importance of cricket to them, these boys are already playing regularly with their local cricket club in East Kent.

KCCT would like to extend a huge thanks and its appreciation to Tenterden Cricket Club (in particular, Chairman, Lance Hopley, groundsman, Bill Lacey, and overseas player and coach, Simon Khomari) who embraced the initiative and bent over backwards to accommodate the refugee squad’s weekly training sessions at the Club’s idyllic Morghew Park ground.

KCCT’s pre-loved cricket kit donation programme “Love Cricket”, supported by Kent Cricket’s over 260 affiliated recreational cricket clubs, provided the Afghan refugee squad with their own team bags with donated bats, pads, gloves and helmets. With a rooky squad, equipment, somewhere to practice and great coaches, all that was needed was a tournament to work towards.

Recognising the challenges faced by refugees with authority figures from their own countries and in many countries through which they passed on their journeys, KCCT approached Kent Police to enter a team into a cricket tournament to be played with the Afghan refugee squad. Kent Police Cricket Captain, Detective Sergeant Simon Williams, was immensely helpful and responsive to the request to pull together a Kent Police team. Simon also suggested bringing along the Kent Police Community Liaison Team to further assist in engaging with the Afghan UASC boys and to show them that figures of authority can be trusted.

To assist with interpreting and to further show how a new life can successfully be made in the UK for the Afghan refugee boys, KCCT has also worked closely with the Kent Afghan Association (KAA). KAA helped to bring the refugee squad together, manage the squad during the Tournament and help the boys realise that their journeys had been travelled before by earlier generations and that getting a job, having a family, and contributing to UK society was not a dream, but a reality they could fulfil. KCCT would like to thank Ahmad Rowfy, Chair of the KAA, and his fellow Trustees for their unstinting support and commitment to continue to embrace the UASCs Afghan boys into their community.

The chosen venue for the T15 Tournament was the historic First XI cricket pitch, known as ‘The Head’, at Tonbridge School. Director of Sport at Tonbridge, Chris Morgan, tirelessly coordinated use of The Head, grounds staff, catering and boys from Tonbridge School and the nearby Skinner’s School, who together formed the third team competing in the Tournament.

When the power of sport unites people, it invariably does so in a stand-out way. The T15 Tournament that took place on Wednesday, 21 June 2023 during Refugee Week, was a huge success and honours were shared evenly. Each team won one game and the tournament finished in a great final innings chase by the Afghan Refugee XI, falling 7 runs short of the impressive 133 target set by the Tonbridge Schools XI. The weather, the setting, the spirit in which the games were played, the joy on everyone’s faces and the engagement and interaction between the young refugees, the Tonbridge Schools and Kent Police squads and especially with the Kent Police Community Liaison Team, all added to this being a truly ‘stand-out’ day.

KCCT Chair, Stuart Butler-Gallie commented: “For me the measure of success of this initiative was the fact that one of the UASC Afghan boys who had trained with the squad in preparation for the tournament, but who was moved to the Northeast two days before the game, face-timed his teammates during the day and spoke to me saying how disappointed he was not to be there and wishing everyone well and good luck”.

“Recognising that we want cricket to be a ‘constant’ in these young men’s lives as a real catalyst for their integration into UK society, KCCT is working with Kent County Council to ensure that the cricketing networks we have across counties and regions, will enable this young man to be introduced to, and start playing for, a local club in the Northeast.”

Deputy Chief Constable for Kent, Peter Ayling, a member of the Kent Police Cricket Squad playing in the T15 Tournament last week said: “This initiative is a shining example of how the power of sport can break down barriers and deliver sustainable engagement and enhance integration. Well done Kent Cricket Community Trust and everyone involved in this initiative; Kent Police certainly look forward to the next tournament.”

Chris Morgan, Director of Sport at Tonbridge School commented: “Tonbridge School have been working for some time with Kent County Council to open our amazing facilities for use by unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors, but when Kent Cricket Community Trust approached the school about using The Head for this tournament, it was a logical and easy decision to offer our support to make this event happen. The quality of the cricket on the day and the way in which it was played was a credit to, and a fitting reward for, everyone who worked so hard to organise this event.”

“Without doubt this was one of the most fulfilling days of my professional career. What was clear for all to see was the positive impact that sport can have in galvanising relationships, breaking down barriers and bringing people together.”

Zoe Harris, KCC’s Operations Manager – Reception and Safe Care Service said: “It is difficult to put into words the amazingly positive impact that Kent Cricket Community Trust’s First Change Programme has had on those refugees fortunate enough to have engaged in the various elements of the programme since late summer 2022. The memories from the guard of honour event and the T15 tournament will stay with these young people forever. We want to continue to work with KCCT to not only offer these experiences to future migrants, but to help ensure cricket remains part of their lives as they move-on, often to other parts of the UK.”