Breaking Boundaries with Rob Deeks and Aik Saath
Breaking Boundaries is a three-year programme (2018 –2021) funded by Spirit of 2012, supported by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and The Institute of Community Cohesion (Icoco).
How did you get involved in Breaking Boundaries and what attracted you?
Aik Saath (Together As One) was established in 1998 due to tensions within our local community in Slough. Ever since then we have been passionate about working with young people to strengthen cohesion in our town. If there's a project that involves empowering young people to encourage positive social change and togetherness, we want to be involved!
How do you support the project, what is your role? e.g. work with community champions?
We are lucky to have a fantastic team of young volunteers – many of them have become Community Champions on the project. We also run Slough Young Carers and some of the young carers have also volunteered to get involved. As specialists in cohesion, Slough Borough Council has invited us to deliver some peer-led training as part of the project.
The strength of a peer-led approach is that rather than staff leading the training, young people lead the sessions. It ensures the contents remains relevant, relatable and engaging. Last summer, we also organised a sports day focussed on strengthening cohesion. It was completely led by young people, really well attended and opened by cricketing legend, Monty Panesar!
What would you say has been the most valuable impact or learning you have seen as a result of Breaking Boundaries?
The most valuable aspect of Breaking Boundaries for us has been networking at the local level. We have worked in Slough for over twenty years and yet some of the groups we have encountered, we have had limited experience of in the past. Getting to know these groups has been a pleasure. I hope we continue to connect in the months and years ahead.
Working with young people to organise our Breaking Boundaries events also provided us with a fantastic opportunity to reflect on how sport can be used to strengthen cohesion. We learned so much from the process and this is sure to impact on our practice in the future.
What do you feel your community needs more of to help people from different backgrounds mix together and create a sense of belonging?
A lot of projects simply focus on ensuring young people from different backgrounds occupy the same spaces but we have to go further – there has to be meaningful interaction. Slough is so diverse that it's almost impossible to stay within one community but simply being surrounded by diversity doesn't encourage cohesion by itself. I live in the Britwell area of Slough. I have neighbours from Somali, Ghanaian and white British backgrounds. If we limit ourselves to 'hi' and 'bye,' we're living in a diverse neighbourhood but we're not mixing meaningfully.
When it was Eid my Somali neighbours brought chocolates for my children – it led us to talk about Ramadan and our different faiths. Our Ghanaian neighbours dropped off Jollof rice for us one evening and we enjoyed it with our children, we found Ghana on the map and read a bedtime story about Kente cloth. On VE Day we made scones for the street. Every one of these moments involved meaningful interactions and that's what our town needs more of. More conversations – meaningful mixing!
With regards to belonging, I think there's so much we can do to strengthen it. I really believe that uncovering the hidden histories that connect our communities does so much to do this. For example, Slough Trading Estate just turned one hundred. The Estate is the largest in Europe and has been built and developed by people with roots all over the world – every community can be proud of it and when you feel pride in something you often feel like you belong to it. By celebrating the stories of the people that have worked on the Estate, we expose its diversity and that all communities are stakeholders in its success.
How does Breaking Boundaries play a role in that?
Breaking Boundaries has provided spaces and opportunities for young people to interact. It's also provided us with the opportunity to examine how sport can provide opportunities to encourage those meaningful interactions. I think it needs to take a more decentralised approach in the different areas because what is a source of cohesion in Birmingham might not be a source of cohesion in Slough and vice versa.
Each area has its own narratives and finding something that resonates across the whole of the UK is a big challenge. This doesn't mean we can't learn from each other and I would like to learn more about what is happening in the grassroots in Manchester and Barking and Dagenham. Perhaps it's time for a Breaking Boundaries national conference!
What has been your most inspirational moment in Breaking Boundaries?
I would love to say it happened at our Breaking Boundaries Sports Day last summer, but that day was so frenetic, there was no moment I could pause to reflect and be inspired – it was so high energy!
But one inspirational moment I do remember was at Slough Cricket Club. When we arrived at one of the sessions, Aarushe Singh, a Breaking Boundaries Ambassador we initially involved in the project, was leading a 'teambuilding cricket drill' and all of the young people were involved – boys and girls from all backgrounds – having fun together in the sun. Everyone included. It was a great moment. Aarushe is an inspirational person.
What key teachings have you learnt/and/or delivered as part of the project?
Something that we believe was quite different, was working with our Community Champions to break down what cohesion means to young people in 'real life.' What does it look like at a sports event? for example. We then put this criteria into tables and ensured that when we ran a cohesion sports day, not only were the sporting victories rewarded, but also the young people that did the most to strengthen cohesion. We've been finding ways to translate a concept, from the abstract to something very practical for younger generations.
If you had to describe your experience of Breaking Boundaries in three sentences what would you say?
I would describe our experience as:
-Uplifting because of the partnerships we have been involved in, meeting groups like SWAT and Paving the Way and working with people like Jit from Sporting Equals.
-Thought-provoking because it gives us the opportunity to think about what we're passionate about (cohesion/our community) in new ways.
During this period of lockdown do you have any advice you would like to share on how to maintain your wellbeing e.g. keep active/fit/well?
We work closely with the NHS and we believe the Five Ways to Wellbeing offers a useful framework to help strengthen our mental health and boost our wellbeing.
We made a podcast about this with Breaking Boundaries Ambassador, Aarushe Singh – you can find it here: yesslough.org.uk/podcast-episode-1/
How is your organisation staying connected to your local community during a lockdown?
We believe that social action is so important to cohesion so we have been making a practical difference wherever we can. At the start of the crisis, our volunteers, many of them Breaking Boundaries Community Champions, helped us deliver water to residents in flats hat had lost their supply because of a mechanical failure.
More recently, our volunteers have been writing to older people in care homes, cut off by the crisis. Next week, we are baking for NHS frontline staff. There is always something you can do for other people and it is so clear the massive impact this has on our volunteers – to their self-esteem and sense of wellbeing. By helping other people, they are helping themselves too.
We are staying connected in other ways. We have been running a weekly quiz for young people, using Zoom and Kahoot. Recently, Jit and Billy provided us with a Breaking Boundaries guest round, and everyone involved really enjoyed it – they did a fantastic job!
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