Laureus World Sports Academy Member Sean Fitzpatrick, the legendary All Blacks rugby captain, visited Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Government, today to announce a further three-year funding commitment to use sport to help young people in Belfast.
Fitzpatrick met First Minister Peter Robinson, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín and informed them that the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and St. James’s Place Foundation, in partnership with Active Communities Network, would be extending their commitment to young people in Belfast to 2017.
The additional funding will allow the Urban Stars project, which the organisations support, to extend its activities into new areas of North and West Belfast, including disadvantaged areas of the Shankill Road.
Fitzpatrick, who played 92 international rugby matches from 1986-1998, including 51 Test matches as captain, said: “I came to Belfast two years ago to see Urban Stars in action shortly after Laureus began its support and I am delighted to be back today to see the progress that is being made and to announce this major new initiative in the city. Belfast has gone through some challenging times and is one of the most deprived areas in the UK, so it gives me great pleasure to be able to announce that the project which we began to support in 2011 will now continue until 2017 and expand to other parts of Belfast.”
Earlier in the day, he joined West Belfast MP Paul Maskey and Councillor Stevie Corr at the Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh Primary School, where he gave rugby coaching and played tag/touch rugby with the children. He also visited the Urban Stars project at Hammer Youth Club in Shankill, where he joined Councillor Brian Kingston and met some of the young participants. He took part in various activities and participated in a question and answer session before announcing the new long-term partnership.
Fitzpatrick said: “Having met the young people at the project and talked to some of the leaders, it’s clear to see what a significant impact Urban Stars is having in this area, providing skills and guidance to ensure that those taking part can fulfil their potential. Sport can help to boost self-esteem, encourage teamwork and build self-confidence. It’s projects like this that can make a massive difference, not just to individuals but to the whole community.”
On a busy day, Fitzpatrick also had a breakfast meeting with Suzanne Wylie, the Chief Executive of Belfast City Council to discuss ways in which the city could become involved in the Urban Stars programme.
Despite the end of civil disturbances and the introduction of power sharing, Belfast remains an area of high unemployment, with almost one in four young people looking for a job. This has a heavy human cost in the city and causes a wide range of social problems.
Since its creation, Urban Stars in Belfast has seen over 700 attending sessions, which use sport as the means to tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour for young people aged between 13–19. The programme also works to help the re-integration into the community of young people leaving care or leaving young offenders’ institutions.
The programme offers sports such as football, boxing, weightlifting, basketball and dance, as well as offering mentoring and group work opportunities to enhance personal development and leadership training. More than 10% of participants return to the project as volunteers.
First Minister Peter Robinson said: “The Northern Ireland Executive recognises the value and importance of sport to life in Northern Ireland and how it has the potential to bring divided communities together. Sport creates interaction between people and groups fostering mutual respect and building social cohesion. I welcome today’s announcement that the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and St. James’s Place Foundation, in partnership with Active Communities Network, will be extending their commitment to young people in Belfast to 2017. This funding will ensure that the Urban Stars project will be able to extend its activities into new areas of North and West Belfast, including disadvantaged areas of the Shankill Road.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “Sport is a great unifier and the conversations we had today with All Blacks rugby star Sean Fitzpatrick about his career and the progress of Urban Stars further supports this. Sport teaches valuable life lessons and can be the catalyst for personal and community development. Sport builds confidence and improves social skills, which is important for the development of our children and young people.
“Individuals and the local community benefit from participation in these projects. I commend the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and St. James’s Place Foundation for the work they are doing with Active Communities Network to deliver the Urban Start project which has involved 700 young people from Belfast attend a range of dance and sport sessions.”
Jim Donnelly, Head of Programmes (Northern Ireland) for Active Communities Network, said: “Following the success of Urban Stars in tackling some of the social and economic issues in the area, Laureus have now committed to another three years and this long-term commitment to our work is key to helping alleviate the issues that our communities face. With this new funding and support from our grassroots community network partners, we are now able to extend Urban Stars into North Belfast and into more cross-community settings.
“Sean has kept a keen eye on Belfast since Laureus first began its support in 2011. He is very interested in the work and the young people here and with the support of politicians from across the political spectrum we all look forward to increasing the positive opportunities Urban Stars provides.”