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Leisure Management
2013 issue 4

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Leisure Management - Sir Keith Mills & Adam Parr


Sir Keith Mills & Adam Parr

Former London 2012 deputy chair Sir Keith Mills and Williams F1 boss Adam Parr are now heading up the Sported Foundation, set up to answer the legacy promise of the 2012 Olympics. Magali Robathan finds out how they’re using sport to inspire a generation

Magali Robathan, CLAD mag
Sir Keith Mills
Adam Parr
Sported supports hundreds of basketball projects across the UK and has helped fund facilities
Parr and Mills with Deutsche Bank CEO Colin Grassie at the launch of Sporteducate in June
A parkour project in Manchester aims to get young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour
Football projects are often the most successful when it comes to engaging disadvantaged youth
Mills took young people from Sported-funded projects to the Olympic Park last year
Sported members work right across the UK

When the London 2012 bid team, led by Lord Sebastian Coe and Sir Keith Mills, went to Singapore in 2005 to bid for the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games in London, they took 35 young people from East London with them. “Why are they here?” said Lord Coe, as he spoke to the International Olympic Committee delegates in the room. “It’s because we’re serious about inspiring young people.

“Choose London today, and you send a clear message to the youth of the world – the Olympic Games is for you.”

Fast forward eight years and I’m meeting Sir Keith Mills in London to talk about how that promise is being kept. With him is Adam Parr, former Williams F1 CEO and now chief executive of Sported, a charity set up to ensure a lasting legacy for the UK’s youth. Together with the rest of the Sported team, they are working hard to use sport to change the lives of disadvantaged young people.

“It all started when we were developing the bid,” explains Mills, who became CEO of the London 2012 bid committee in September 2003, after he was approached for his strong business credentials (he had 20 years’ marketing experience and is the inventor of Air Miles and Nectar).

“We needed to get closer to the communities in East London, because that’s where the Olympic Park would be built. Together with the local authority, we hired some coaches, booked some halls and playing fields and started to run sporting activities for the local kids. The borough and the police reported that it had a huge impact, because it gave the kids something to do in the evenings. It got them off the streets and engaged in something positive.

“As we developed our narrative when we were bidding for the Games, one of the strongest stories that came through was that the Olympics in London should be about more than just regenerating a part of the city and great sport. They should be used for something a bit more substantial.”

I am talking to Mills and Parr in Sported’s eighth floor office in St James’s, London. There is a quiet hum of activity in the open plan office, which features framed photos of Olympic athletes and Mills’ yacht racing team Team Origin (yacht racing is one of his passions). The pair look relaxed, and clearly get on well, sharing banter as we prepare for the interview. As soon as they start talking about Sported, however, it’s clear they are deadly serious about their mission.

Sported targets young people from disadvantaged areas of the UK by supporting the grassroots organisations that use sport to try and bring about social change in their communities.

Both Mills and Parr are absolutely convinced about the power of sport to change the lives of young people, and they’ve been backed up by a piece of research recently published by the Sported Foundation which has found that £4,000 per young person, per year, is saved by using sport as an intervention to tackle social problems. With 2.5 million young people living in areas of deprivation in the UK, this could add up to billions of pounds.

“Sport helps young people in several ways,” says Parr. “Firstly the young people we’re dealing with don’t necessarily have a great structure around them, and sport can really provide a framework for their lives. Secondly, it provides a physical place where they can go and be safe and have people around them who want to be there. Thirdly, the people who run these organisations are inspirational – they’re often mother or father figures to these young people. They’re not just referees or coaches; they play a huge part in these young people’s lives.”

As an example of the power of sport, Parr cites a recent trip he made to Northern Ireland, where he presented a Belfast football club with a cheque which will be used to help develop a young men’s leadership programme using sport for development. Parr met three young men who had been trained to become football coaches as part of this programme, and was hugely impressed by what he saw.

“It’s a tough part of the world – you have people selling drugs on the corner, lots of young people going down paths that are never going to lead anywhere,” he says. “These three young lads were all not in employment, education or training (NEET), but they have been trained and are coaching the under 12s, under 14s and under 16s in football. They were fantastic young people – fit, engaged and confident. These young lads were making chances for themselves, and they were role models for all the young people they were coaching.”

These are the kind of young people the London 2012 bid team was hoping to inspire when it made its promise in 2005. Back then, they had the vision, but no idea how to achieve it.
So when the team returned triumphant from Singapore, they didn’t just have the job of organising the Games ahead of them, they also had to work out how to deliver on their promise of inspiring a generation.

After realising that there was nothing of significance in the Sport for Development sector taking place in the UK, Mills decided to establish Sported as a personal initiative, using £10m of his own money. He then recruited Jo Stocks to lead it, and asked her to spend six months looking at the sports sector in the UK and working out where the gaps were.

Stocks reported that there was a whole sector that was using sport, not just for participation, but as a means of helping young people.

“There were several thousand sports clubs out there, many of them very small, which were struggling quite hard to survive,” says Mills. “The people that run them are local heroes, but nationally there has been very little exposure for these clubs. Individually they are all scrabbling around for funding and resources, and there was no overarching organisation to help them.

“Jo said she thought there was an opportunity to set up an umbrella organisation to represent all of these clubs. If we can do that, she said, it would really deliver on our promise of inspiring a generation.”

They spent the next year trying to find these clubs and work out what they needed, coming to the conclusion that they required several different things.

“They needed information, because they’re pretty much on their own,” says Mills. “They wanted people to help them with their business plans and they wanted to raise money.”

Sported now has 2,500 member clubs, which must meet the criteria of using sport for some sort of social purpose. The organisation is free to join, and members get access to the Sported site with all of the information and data on it. It also has around 250 active, trained volunteer mentors, who help the clubs with anything from putting together business plans to negotiating lower rents for premises.

If the clubs need funding for significant projects, Sported will help them raise money, and will also put its own funding in. So far, it has awarded grants of more than £2.4m, and has helped its members find a further £4m from other sources.

Jo Stocks has led Sported for the past five years in her role as director, but this year it was decided that the organisation needed a chief executive. Adam Parr joined as CEO in April, with Stocks continuing as director.

For Parr, joining Sported represents a huge change from the glamorous, highly competitive and at times fraught world of Formula 1, where he spent five years as CEO and then chairman of the Williams team.

“Formula 1 is the elite sport of elite sports, because there are only 24 people in the world who do it,” he says. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to get into. Most sports have a development element to them, so you can reach out into the community. You can’t do that with Formula 1 – there is zero development. Sported is the exact opposite; it’s the inverse of elite sport. It’s about every single person, so that’s very exciting.”

What was it really like leading the Williams team? “Educational,” says Parr, carefully. “It’s an amazing sport. It’s personal for the drivers, and it’s very, very competitive. There’s no getting together in the bar after the race.”

I ask whether Parr took any lessons from his time with Williams.

“There’s one overwhelming lesson from Formula 1,” he says. “If you measure stuff, and you hold yourself accountable – or in the case of Formula 1 90 million people hold you accountable – it’s amazing what progress you can make.

“In 2010, when we stopped refuelling the cars in pit stops, it took 3.9 seconds to do a pit stop and change the wheels on a car. This year it takes 2.2 seconds. That shows what you can do if you measure something, you are held to account for it and you have to deliver. If we can do the equivalent at Sported, then we could have an enormous impact.”

The recent research findings are all part of this aim of measuring the impact of the work Sported and its member organisations are doing. On the back of this research, the Sportworks app was launched in May 2013 – a shared measurement tool that allows sport for development organisations to measure the impact and societal cost savings of any planned or actual initiatives.

“One thing this sector hasn’t done very well, is prove that it works,” says Mills. “It was really important to provide the sector with a tool that could really demonstrate the economic and social value of sport.”

2013 has been a big year for Sported. The start of the year saw the charity launch its first national fundraising campaign – Choose Sport – and announce a media partnership with The Sun newspaper. Adam Parr’s appointment was announced in April, closely followed by the announcement of a multi million pound sponsorship deal with Deutsche Bank. This partnership sees the two parties working together to develop Sportseducate, an education programme that will be rolled out across grassroots sports clubs in London. As part of the programme, Deutsche Bank will provide 33 community sports clubs with funding to develop education programmes for 11 to 18-year-olds at risk of exclusion from school. If the three year pilot is successful, the scheme will be expanded across the UK.

“This is experimental – it’s very new – but we’re confident it will have a real impact,” says Parr. “Most of these kids do have ambitions, but when they are at school or home and want to do their homework, there are lots of distractions and difficulties put in their way. If you go to a club where the resources are there, you get help, you’ve got a coach who you admire telling you to sit down, and mates there who want to sit down and study, that makes a huge difference.”

Also in June, Sported announced that it had chosen ukactive as its charity partner for 2013-2014, something which will be important for raising both funds and awareness of the work of Sported.

This is important, because as well as supporting individual clubs, championing the sport for development sector as a whole is a key aim for the charity.

“Our sector gets a tiny amount of government funding,” says Parr. “I believe that’s because, while it’s actually beneficial for the health department, justice department, education department, sports department and home office, it doesn’t fit neatly into anyone’s area, so nobody particularly feels a responsibility for it. It’s important to make sure that when people think ‘I’d like to put something back into society’, they think of our sector. At the moment we’re not even on the radar.”

Mills says that his time as CEO of the bid team and then deputy chair of London 2012 taught him some valuable lessons. When he was appointed CEO, he had no sporting background, and had never been to an Olympic Games. The job showed him how important sport can be as a way of inspiring people, and he says the biggest lesson he learned was what can be achieved when people work together.

“Hosting a successful Games required the cooperation of the entire country,” he says. “That’s something I’ve taken onto Sported. Each individual club is doing a great job, but together they can be hugely powerful.”

His experience with London 2012 was one he’ll never forget, says Mills.

“It was a 10 year experience, from starting the bid with a blank piece of paper, through to the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games,” he says. “The thing that gave me the most pleasure was seeing the country come together in a way we could only have dreamed of. In the very early days there was a huge amount of cynicism – people thought that we couldn’t win it, and once we had, they thought we would screw it up.

“The thing that really got the tear ducts going was the arrival of the torch. When it arrived in the UK, it was the first moment the public was actually exposed to the Olympics. I sat on the media truck as the torch travelled up through Cornwall. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger, and we could see the impact it was having on people – we could see the tears, the emotions, the kids on grandparents’ shoulders. When we arrived in Plymouth, 55,000 people were waiting to see it arrive. It was phenomenal. That’s when I thought, ‘it’s going to be alright’.”

That’s not to say there weren’t moments of worry in the lead up to the Olympics, however.

“There was a lot of nervous anxiety just before the Games,” Mills admits. “When you work on something like that, you have thousands of moving pieces, and as they come together you realise that some of them don’t quite fit as well as they should. As soon as we got through the opening ceremony and into the Games, though, it was a real pleasure to be a part of.”

The big thing for Sported over the next few months is the Keep the Promise fundraising campaign, which was launched in July to coincide with the first anniversary of the Games.

Both men say they are driven by a need to see Sported succeed. “I’m driven by challenges, whether they are personal, about the Olympics or sailing or business or making sure that Sported is the most successful foundation in the sector,” says Mills.

“I like a quote of Einstein’s, which basically says that life has no meaning, except in the service of others,” says Parr. “As I get older, I think that’s very true, and I think that Sported is an opportunity to turn that into reality.”

A helping Hand

Perry Draycott is 24, she’s been a member of the Aspire Boxing Academy in Sheffield since 2010 and now has two national boxing titles to her name. But life for Draycott was very different before she found boxing.

“I joined Aspire in February 2010 after seeing Sharon Holford, who’s now one of my coaches, in the Rotherham Advertiser,” she says. “She’d been winning loads of titles so I decided to get in touch with the gym. I’d been to a couple of boxing gyms before then with friends but seeing Sharon’s story really inspired me.

“So much of what I did before I found boxing you just couldn’t write about. I’d left school, never really worked and I was doing stuff I shouldn’t have been because I didn’t have any direction. From about the age of 14 to 21 I was just getting into trouble, spending my weekends drinking and taking stuff I shouldn’t have been. I was locked up several times.

“All my friends are still doing the same things. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t discovered boxing – probably locked up or worse.”

Draycott has now joined the army as a way of introducing discipline into her life, has been put forward for Team GB assessment and is hoping to get a place on the team for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“If I don’t make it there will be other ABA events to look forward to and I’ll just keep working hard,” she says.

www.sported.org.uk. To donate, text KEEP12 plus your donation to 70070


Draycott has seen her life turned around since joining the Sported-supported Aspire

Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 4

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