Wicketz is giving young people in deprived areas access to cricket, with the aim of instilling values of teamwork and responsibility. Peter Watts discovers why it was an off-the-bat decision for the Masonic Charitable Foundation to get involved
Enjoyed the world over, cricket may be one of England’s most famous exports but it does require a little organisation. Participants need pads, bats and balls as well as a large playing area – not forgetting the time to spend the best part of a day standing in a field. These are obstacles that children in some communities are unable to overcome without support, which is why the Lord’s Taverners charity created the Wicketz programme.
Since 2012, Wicketz has given more than 2,200 youngsters living in areas of high social, economic and educational deprivation access to a cricket club. But at Wicketz, it isn’t just about teaching young people how to execute the perfect reverse sweep or deliver a googly. Rather, the focus is on improving social cohesion and teaching valuable life skills to children aged eight to 15 who may otherwise be left by the wayside.
It was this emphasis on life skills that prompted the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) to give a £50,000 grant to Wicketz to fund a two-year expansion project. ‘It’s a well thought through programme that will have impact where it is most needed and that’s music to our ears,’ says Les Hutchinson, MCF Chief Operating Officer and a keen cricket fan.
Wicketz targets areas and communities that often don’t have access to playing fields or sporting facilities. ‘As masons we want to enable people to actively participate in society, to become part of something and introduce that idea of a supportive culture,’ says Les, adding that the element of competitiveness in cricket is also important. ‘It’s character building and provides people with a sense of purpose. We’ll be using cricket as the catalyst to improve the lives of disadvantaged people.’
Wicketz began as a pilot scheme in West Ham in East London in 2012. The area was carefully selected due to its high level of social deprivation and lack of existing cricketing provision. ‘The overarching aim of our project is to set up a community club environment that will eventually become self-sustaining,’ explains Henry Hazlewood, cricket programme manager at Lord’s Taverners.
‘We fund everything initially – the coaching and the development – so the programme comes at no cost to the participants. Over time we engage volunteers and parents and embed them into the scheme. The club in West Ham is now integrated into the Essex league, and has a fee-paying structure and parent-volunteers. We have also upskilled volunteers so they can become coaches.’
The scheme has since expanded to Luton and is now branching into Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham. In Bristol, the MCF grant will fund three clubs and a local development officer. It will pay for coaching, playing facilities and equipment to ensure that weekly sessions can take place.
An independent charity that was founded in the Tavern pub at Lord’s cricket ground in London in 1950, Lord’s Taverners works closely with cricket authorities to improve the prospects of disadvantaged and disabled youngsters. The local development officer for Wicketz is therefore able to sit on regional county cricket boards to ensure local needs are met. ‘That allows us to fully embed with what is happening locally and get a real feel for the landscape,’ says Hazlewood.
While participants will benefit from weekly coaching, the project has not been created with the intention of finding the next Ben Stokes or Haseeb Hameed. Instead, the focus is on personal development and social cohesion.
‘Cricket is very cognitive; it’s a thinking game. There’s a lot we can draw out from it that has benefits outside of sport’ Henry Hazlewood
IT'S THE TAKING PART...
‘Cricket as an outcome is absolutely secondary,’ says Mark Bond, cricket programmes executive at Lord’s Taverners. ‘It’s not about making good cricket players, although that will likely happen through regular coaching anyway. It’s an open-door policy for people who have never picked up a bat or ball, as well as those who already have an ability and interest. We are not trying to find the next batch of world-class cricketers, we are more interested in their personal development.’
Wicketz goes to local schools to introduce the sport to the children, and then encourages them to join clubs set up by Wicketz outside the school environment. ‘We’re aware it’s a big commitment as we are asking children from deprived backgrounds, often with very little parental support, to come along off their own back,’ says Hazlewood. ‘But cricket is really just the tool of engagement to get them into the project. We want to enhance the prospects of the participants and improve their self-development. We target wider outcomes and life skills and do things like working with the NHS, fire brigade and police, things that are relevant to the local community.’
In Luton, one of Wicketz’s aims has been to improve social cohesion between different ethnic communities and discuss safety awareness surrounding the railway lines that criss-cross the area. In most regions, the local police force will be invited to take part. An officer will spend the first part of the session playing cricket, and the rest of the time talking to the youngsters about relevant issues. For some of the participants, this may be their first positive engagement with the police force. ‘They will play cricket for 20 minutes and see this officer isn’t that bad,’ says Hazlewood. ‘It’s a way of bringing down barriers.’
‘We are not trying to find the next batch of world-class cricketers, we are more interested in their personal development’ Mark Bond
While Wicketz may weave different community strands into the sessions, cricket remains central to the story. Hazlewood and Bond both highlight the way cricket is different to other major team sports in that it requires a great deal of individual responsibility, with players part of a team but also having to face a bowler on their own.
‘We think cricket has a lot of physical benefits and also helps communication and leadership,’ says Bond. ‘What really separates it from other team sports is the large element of individual responsibility. In other team sports, people can shy away a little bit, but in cricket you are part of a team and have to communicate, but you also have to take responsibility for your own performance.’
Hazlewood takes Bond’s point further. ‘Cricket is very cognitive; it’s a thinking game. There’s a lot we can draw out from the game that has benefits outside of sport,’ he says. ‘A lot of these outcomes are very soft and informal and worked out in sessions, and then there are more overt sessions such as working directly with the police.’
The overall aim is for the clubs to become self-sustaining and integrated into local leagues. In Bristol, Lord’s Taverners will be running local festivals to engage the various Wicketz programmes in competition, but there is also a shorter-term target for selected participants, who may be invited to join a three-day residential session where they can work on their game with professional cricketers and engage in more detailed workshops.
The Wicketz programme has already directly benefited more than 2,200 children, which shows the scheme’s impressive reach. However, Bond and Hazlewood emphasise it isn’t just about numbers. As Bond explains, ‘We don’t just want to get 100 kids through the door who love cricket, we want the kids who will really benefit.’
Ultimately, the hope is to improve lives in the wider community, not just for participants. ‘We are trying to create environments that benefit everyone and have different people from different backgrounds sitting together on the same committee,’ says Hazlewood. ‘We want to break down barriers that are prevalent and have an impact not just with the kids who come to the programme.’