Changing diversity: the impact of youth action and snowsports

This month we’ve been exploring the perceived lack of diversity in the outdoor industry, and finding what actions are being taken to create a more inclusive space.

Some of these great initiatives include UK based Snow-Camp, and the award-winning Skateistan. We caught up with Anna Kent, Communications Manager from Snow-Camp and Talia Kaufman, Program Director at Skateistan to find out how their work is inspiring change by empowering young people today.

First up, in your own words, can you describe what you’re doing?

SKATEISTAN: Skateistan empowers children through skateboarding and education. Education means so much more when it’s delivered in a fun, creative way that helps all children explore their own abilities and interests. So we combine our educational classes with lessons in the skatepark so that children can learn new skills, make friends, and have fun.

SNOW-CAMP: Snow-Camp are the UK’s only charity using a unique combination of skiing, snowboarding, education and vocational opportunities to support and empower inner-city young people. Snow-Camp play a key role in motivating and inspiring young people from communities with high levels of deprivation, enabling them to gain qualifications and to develop key life-skills.

We are passionate about providing an alternative approach to engage young people by providing an energising environment at artificial ski slopes in the UK in order for them to build relationships and gain employment. Our programmes require initiative, individuality and courage and therein lies the attraction and challenge providing a much-needed complimentary service to youth organisations working closely with those in local authority care, in the youth justice system and excluded from education.

How did it start?

SKATEISTAN: It all started in 2007 when our Founder and Executive Director, Oliver Percovich traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan. He noticed that the children were really fascinated by his skateboard so he started to run some informal skate lessons in a disused fountain in Kabul. Girls are often prevented from taking part in sports in Afghanistan, but skateboarding was such a new thing that it wasn’t considered a sport and this gave Oliver a chance to encourage girls to take part. He saw how powerful skateboarding was as a tool to teach children skills like resilience and determination, even things like taking turns and helping each other out. There were so many children who were out of school and Oliver decided he could combine skateboarding with education to encourage children to take part. In 2008, he officially registered Skateistan as an NGO in Afghanistan and in 2009, Skateistan opened the largest indoor facility for sports in Afghanistan.

SNOW-CAMP: Snow-Camp was founded by Dan Charlish in 2003. Working as a youth worker in Stockwell, London at the time. Dan overheard his youth group saying, whilst playing a snowboarding Xbox game, that this was the closest they were ever going to get to the mountains and snowsports.

“Their perception of snowsports was accurate, in that it was something, at that time, they were never going to be able to experience for real. They were at high-risk of seriously going off the rails. Our job as their youth workers was to provide an alternative.”

A snowboarder himself, Dan knew that a few days on the slopes could be the mechanism to spur these young people into a positive mindset. Just weeks later he had secured funding to take the first 13 young people on a week-long programme to France. Since that life-changing week, Dan with a passionate staff team have driven the charity forward to support more than 800 young people nationally each year. Programmes have developed from an annual ski trip to an accredited series of programmes taking place in the UK using a combination of snowsports, life-skills and employment training to engage young people living in areas with high levels of deprivation, crime and gang activity. Today, Snow-Camp programmes provide a much-needed service to youth projects, across the UK, working closely with those in local authority care, the youth justice system, excluded from education and facing a wayward future.

Snowsports are immediately engaging. Young people can change their outlook and turn their life around on our programmes. They can gain their accredited Snow-Life Award, ASDAN in Sports & Fitness, Safeguarding and First Aid Certificate, BASI and Snowsport England/Scotland/Wales instructor qualifications and an NVQ in Activity Leadership over the course of two years through our journey of programmes, improving their future considerably.

What have your findings been so far?

SKATEISTAN: For us, it’s important to build trust in the communities where we work and the best way to do that is to employ local people. They understand what the community needs and the best ways to achieve lasting impact. As a result of working so closely with the local communities, we have become a trusted organisation and we’re seeing our numbers grow all the time. We now have around 2,000 active students per week, half of which are girls. We’re also working hard to reach out to children living with disabilities and to internally displaced children and those from minority groups to make sure that everyone can be included.

SNOW-CAMP: Despite snowsports traditionally being a very white middle-class activity, we reach a diverse ethnic background with on average 70% from BME backgrounds. We have found that snowsports are a very powerful personal development tool, and are attractive to young people of both genders, those who are not typically sporty, and are accessible to those with a wide range of physical abilities. We are able to reach a wide range of young people through our partners, youth projects and youth service providers, to provide programmes that can help with development, be that through increasing employability potential or skills needed for social integration. We have now worked with over 10,000 young people nationally and last year 91% of young people who completed our programmes moved on to either employment, training, further education or other positive destinations.

What does that tell you about the industry?

SKATEISTAN: The interest in skateboarding and its potential as a tool for social change is growing rapidly. As more communities have access to skateboarding, more locally grown programs will crop up to address regional social challenges. With our new initiative, the Goodpush Alliance, we are aiming to support the skateboarding for youth development sector by providing ideas, knowledge sharing and free resources to create the highest quality programs possible, wherever they are in the world. It’s such an exciting time to be working in this area!

Obviously you’re doing great work, do you feel like more can be done in the industry? By brands? By schools?

SKATEISTAN: I think there are some great opportunities for research to further prove our method of skateboarding as an engaging tool for improving children’s lives and opportunities. The support from the industry has been incredible and really shows the social conscience of the skate industry. We rely on skateboarding brands to promote the work we’re doing as well as to help us out with the equipment and safety gear that our students need and we’re pleased to say there are loads of awesome brands who give us amazing support. There’s always room for more!

Longer term, we would like to see a unified vision for social impact in the skateboarding for youth development sector and we’re hoping to help make that a reality through the Goodpush Alliance.

SNOW-CAMP: Through our work we definitely think that the industry is becoming more diverse with so many more young people finding careers in the industry here in the UK and abroad. We wouldn’t be able to achieve such positive outcomes without the support of the snowsports industry. From donating, providing work placements for our young people and donating kit to promoting our programmes far and wide, our fantastic partners go above and beyond to support our cause. However there is more that needs to be done to make winter sports more accessible and we are always looking to build new relationships and form new partnerships to make this happen.

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