The campaign to bring back cricket to State Schools – The CEO blog

Published on January 15, 2023 by Tommy Ferry

CEO Beatrice Butsana-Sita presented the Greenhouse Sports vision for the launch of our first cricket programme in an article for The Cricket Paper, presented below:

I am sure that many readers of you have been following Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams on television in recent weeks, a series in which the England legend takes a group of boys from his hometown of Preston, and from challenging backgrounds and attempts to turn them into a competitive cricket team – all from scratch.

It is a timely programme, not least because events over the past couple of years have brought into sharp focus the issues that cricket faces in terms of access, equality and inclusivity, but also hopefully on the flip side as England’s recent success through white-ball and what has been termed ‘Bazball’ could be getting people to fall back in love with the game, and bring new fans to it. It is timely for our charity because the programme is closely replicating what we’ve just started doing at Greenhouse Sports.

Over the past twenty years, we’ve been working with schools in the capital to reach 50,000 students through Greenhouse Coaches, keeping them engaged with education, helping them achieve better and a better future. We try to work with children and communities that need us most, only working in schools where more than two-thirds of pupils live in areas of high deprivation.

Eastlea Community School is the first place that has received the benefits of Greenhouse’s new cricket programme (Photo: Greenhouse Sports)

The way we’ve done this is quite simple: we partner with state schools to place a Greenhouse Coach in what essentially becomes a full-time specialist sports coaching and mentoring role at a school. The Greenhouse Coach is our magic, they’re sports coaches, trained mentors, and role-models all rolled into one. They also operate out of the Greenhouse Centre, in Marylebone, just a six hit away from the Home of Cricket, Lord’s.

Up until now, those coaches have predominantly been focused on basketball, table tennis, and tennis – with some of our students going on to win scholarships and places at American universities. Children on our programmes see improved attendance and academic results, attending on average 8 days more in school each year and 30% better results in English GCSE and 40% better in Maths than their non-Greenhouse peers. They report better mental and physical health, less antisocial behaviour, and improved educational and job prospects. Greenhouse Sports has given opportunities to play sport for thousands of children, and having delivered sessions on Basketball, Tennis and Table-Tennis (above) they are making the step into cricket.

However, this year, on our 20th anniversary, we’re taking our ambitions even further. We’ve just launched our first ever cricket programme at Eastlea Community School, close to West Ham in East London.

Full disclosure for all of you cricket enthusiasts; I’m Belgian and cricket and its culture was not much part of my life growing up! However, I’ve lived and worked in the UK for more than 20 years and I’ve seen how passionate fans and players are about the sport, and the community spirit it naturally encourages. Importantly, I’ve seen how it connects people from different backgrounds and life experiences. Especially so in many of the communities and areas of London we have worked in since 2002.

Our ventures into cricket are being led by our new superstar Head Cricket Coach, Masoor Khan, who is a former lead coach with Chance to Shine and previous winner of the organisation’s Street Coach of the Year award. He’s working closely with the school’s leadership and of course the pupils there.

We see a huge potential for our cricket programme. The capital is as diverse a city as they come with children of all backgrounds, ethnicities and classes coming together. Not only will there be unearthed cricketing talent just waiting to be unleashed, but there are students that need encouragement to get outdoors and enjoy themselves more generally, both individually and as part of a group – through cricket or otherwise.

Our speciality is the intensity of our coaching; the huge number of hours delivered. Like Coach Mas at Eastlea, our coaches work fulltime in schools running extracurricular breakfast, lunch, and after-school clubs, as well as free coaching camps during the holidays. Our coaches pride themselves on being present in young people’s lives 5-6 days of the week, from 7am until 6pm, and are there until children leave school. Mas will be coaching cricket every day through the winter terms, as well as the summer, similar to what students at private schools would expect.

For the children we target, the statistics are stark. Children from the poorest families are 3 times more likely to not participate in any extra-curricular activities compared to those from better-off families, and they lack many opportunities that are available to their wealthier peers. They are more likely to leave school with no qualifications, be excluded from school, get involved in crime and gang violence, suffer from mental health issues.

Photography by Ben Stevens

Butsana-Sita has been CEO of Greenhouse Sports since 2020, overseeing a smooth transition out of the Covid-19 Pandemic for their programmes, and delivering the cricket programme, inspired by the passion she sees for the sport in the UK

Often, children from the poorest backgrounds don’t have proper access to outdoor space, and even rarer is accessible organised, regular professional sports coaching. At Greenhouse Sports all of our coaching is free to every participant.

We’ve started off small, but we’re aiming high. Over the past twelve months we’ve taken our first steps outside of the capital, launching a table tennis programme in Portsmouth; and several basketball programmes in Leicester, a city that is of course another cricket hotbed, and we are in discussions with schools to expand our cricket programmes there.

There are currently 4 million children in the UK that fit the poverty profile of those we support as a charity. Our ultimate ambition is for all of them to have the support a Greenhouse coach brings, which would see us operating in every major city in the UK. That may seem pie-in-the-sky to some, but not us – our model is proven to be scalable and there is no dearth of sports-loving adults willing to help youngsters.

But of course, we do need help – not just in terms of funding, but in terms of local knowledge and know -how. So, if you know a community or a school that might benefit from a Greenhouse Coach, please let me know by emailing me directly at [email protected].

Greenhouse Sports is supported by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, who have awarded Greenhouse more than £2.2m to help more young Londoners access life-changing coaching.