When I set up my charity back in 2008 I wanted to support other athletes in their transition to a life beyond sport but I also wanted to work with young people as I knew how much they could benefit from having athletes as mentors in their lives.

My charity believes every young person, no matter what their background or current circumstances, has the potential to lead a positive life. I grew up in a council estate in Kent and really struggled at school, I felt like I wasn’t any good at anything.

These days I passionately believe one person can make a huge difference in young people’s lives. For me it was my PE teacher Debbie Page, who first spotted my potential and gave me the confidence to succeed. For many of the young people on our programmes, having their athlete mentor spend time with them and believe in them can be the difference that they need.

Far too often, young people in care have been moved from one home or institution to another with no time to develop relationships or have that consistent role model in their life that children from stable homes usually have.

I know from personal experience the positive effect that athletes can have in all areas of society, but from very early on in the days of our charity, I realised they could have a huge positive impact when working with young people.

Athletes have been through all kinds of ups and downs in their lives and young people can more easily relate to someone like an athlete than yet another person in a suit and tie telling them what they should be doing with their lives.

At Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, we target those who need our help most, not those who are easiest to reach. As an example last year we ran programmes for care leavers, homeless people, young offenders, women at risk of sexual exploitation and those living within isolated communities.

In March last year there were over 70,000 looked after children in England alone, the figure for the United Kingdom is probably well above 100,000 and we know first-hand from our experience and success stories, how much of an impact we can have.

Take Martine for example. Martine attended our Get on Track programme back in 2013. Get on Track is a 14 month long transformational programme for young people aged 16-25, it helps young people realise the attitudes and behaviours they need to live a positive life. Martine had been in trouble with the police, was drinking too much and had been in care from a young age.

 

At 17 years old she was living on her own, looking after her son and was looking for a way out from the life she was living. That’s where the Trust came in. I saw first-hand with Martine how much she wanted to change and how much working with the athletes on the programmes helped her.

Seeing how the athletes all had to pick themselves up from failures and disappointments was a real eye opener for Martine. The programme gave her the confidence to succeed and we were all really pleased when off the back of the programme she got a job with Southeastern, co-ordinating work experience programmes for young people like her. 

In 2016 we ran our first Get on Track programme in Wales, in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council.  We always target those who need our help most, not those who are easiest to reach and on this particular programme we had Jodie, who along with her brother and sister, had been in care growing up. Years of being told she wasn’t going to amount to anything or go anywhere in her life had left her mark on Jodie.

 

On the programme there had been a few discipline issues and one day Jodie thought she had blown it by dangerously disrupting a session one too many times. She was amazed when Philippa Tuttiett (who was her athlete mentor) took the time to sit her down and talk to her about her behaviour and offer her a second chance.

From that day forward Jodie dedicated herself to the programme, was offered a job in a café at a local leisure centre off the back of it and now takes time to volunteer and mentor other young people in similar situations to herself. I was privileged and honoured to sit next to her on the sofa at ITV Wales as she told her story in July 2017 after speaking to over 100 people at a reception at the Senedd in Cardiff. 

I know from talking to Jodie how proud she is to have a job and how determined she is to make something of her life.

My experience has shown that with a little support, young people leaving care can absolutely thrive in the workplace.  They have a real empathy with other people and have often had to work harder than other young people to get their positions and so are keen to make a real go of them and show their employers what they are capable of.

Jodie and Martine are just two of the many young care leavers who have attended our programmes, worked with our athletes and gone on to live positive, fulfilling lives. Both are advocates of the Trust and have spoken in front of hundreds of people about their experiences in the last six months, not something either of them would have seen themselves doing when they attended the first day of a Get on Track programme!

Martine attending and speaking at an        Jodie speaking with athlete mentor Philippa
event at City Hall, London with Dame        Tuttiett at the Senedd in Cardiff
Kelly and other guests

Our programmes are proven to have a lasting impact on the lives of young people who attend them and we know from experience that the young people also have a lasting impact on the people they go on to work and volunteer with after leaving our programmes.

Dame Kelly supports the Department of Work and Pensions' See Potential campaign. See Potential seeks to show how a few simple changes to your recruitment practices could make a difference in recruiting people from all kinds of backgrounds.