With the Commonwealth Games 2022 well underway in Birmingham, as we mark ten years on from the opening of the Olympic Games in London, and not to mention an unforgettable, record breaking Euros final all within the last week, the spotlight is on sport and the incredible benefits it can bring. At Dame Kelly Holmes Trust we’re reflecting on what the legacy of sport means for us.

Our purpose is to support young people... We believe every young person, regardless of their background, deserves the opportunity to be the best version of themselves, and we believe sportspeople have the power to help them do this. From the positive influence they have whilst competing - inspiring a nation to get active or breaking down stereotypes - to the long-lasting impact they can have after the medals and the podiums... Putting world class athletes shoulder to shoulder with young people, our transformational programmes are a catalyst for positive change, equipping them with a winning mindset and shaping futures. Since the launch of the Trust by Col. Dame Kelly Holmes in 2008, our athlete mentors have supported thousands of young people facing adversity, to improve their physical health and mental wellbeing. 

No stranger to adversity herself, Dame Kelly grew up in a council estate and spent time in care in her early years. Like many of the young people we work with, she struggled at school and felt like she wasn’t any good at anything. Her PE teacher spotted her talent for running, and encouraged her to focus, work hard and believe in herself. She says that this was the turning point for her. Following Commonwealth Games gold medal wins in Victoria and Manchester 2002, she historically became the first British women to win both 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. As she came to the end of her competitive career, she recognised a powerful and motivational skill set that she, and fellow athletes had developed during their time competing at the highest levels of sport.  

She wanted to create a legacy from her athletics career that would benefit young people, believing every child needs a hero – someone to look up to and be inspired by; as well as a legacy for athletes who have a unique set of skills that can be used to have positive impact on the lives of people around them. The skills and mindset needed to succeed in sport translate across life. The Trust trains up existing and former athletes, from all sports, to use their unique experience from the world of elite sport to give young people a starting block in their own lives that they may not otherwise have – it’s a teammate like no other

Amongst our athlete mentor team are 2022 Commonwealth Games competitors, Scottish judoka Sarah Adlington, who will be aiming to repeat her gold medal win from 2014, and Jamaican diver Yona Knight-Wisdom, looking to better his 4th place in the Gold Coast. Thirteen of the Trust’s athlete mentor team have previously competed in the Games, as well as Kelly herself. We may not have had any women on the pitch - but we were 100% behind them!!

 

Reflecting on her own experiences and legacy, Kelly said: “It’s brilliant to have the U.K. hosting another major championships this year, and I’m obviously really looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. When the Games came to Manchester, getting to compete and winning Gold in front of my friends, family and fans was amazing! With the Commonwealth Games being where I won my first international gold, it’s a really special event for me.

This Games is the first ever global multi-sport event to award more medals to women than men and has more para-integration than any previous Commonwealths, which is a big moment for sport.

These Games really highlight the positive impact sport can have in the wider community and creating a legacy from sport is something that has always been key for me. Whether that means more people inspired to take part in sport after they watch the Games, to the incredible role models that athletes can be – my charity supports young people through transformational programmes delivered by existing or former elite athletes, who use the skills, mindset and experience from the world of sport to mentor the young people we engage.”

Adam Whitehead, former Commonwealth gold medal winning swimmer and Olympian, who leads the athlete mentor team at the Trust commented:

“By far and away my favourite race was winning the Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd in Manchester when I was 22. It being a multi-sport Games, rather than just a swimming championship was special, and I loved it being at home in the U.K. All the support in and around Manchester, in fact the atmosphere in the whole country was just really good and gave me energy for my races. I can’t wait for Birmingham 2022!

At the Trust, we have the opportunity to use our experiences to help other people. We believe athletes are inspirational role models and mentors. It is widely recognised that sport requires a high degree of discipline, responsibility, and perseverance, and a mindset focused on achieving. I like working with the other athletes who are all from different sports but equally are similar in lots of ways. We’ve all got a story to tell. We take that an apply it to challenges young people might be facing in their own lives - the skills are transferable, and once they’ve made that connection, the uplift in their own self-belief is incredible.”

In a world rocked by a global pandemic, a climate in crisis and the cost-of-living spiralling, it’s small wonder that mental health and wellbeing amongst young people is in decline. The Prince’s Trust Youth Index 2022 reported 23% of young people felt they would never recover from the emotional effects of the pandemic. The latest NHS figures show 420,000 children a month are undergoing treatment or waiting for care for mental health problems in England alone – the highest number since records began. Sport England’s most recent Active Lives survey results saw existing inequalities in sport amongst young people widening. The much-needed access to physical and mental wellbeing support that our programmes offers to young people has never been greater.

We are encouraged that our most recent reporting has shown the continued positive impact our athlete mentors have on young people, in spite of the challenging times:

  • 946 young people started on our programmes in 21/22, with a further 675 continuing to receive mentoring into 2022, all delivering social action projects in their local area

  • We have delivered wellbeing and leadership programmes to young people in educational, community and health settings – increasing our reach, and accessing young people where they need support

  • Confidence in themselves increased by 17% following our programmes, with young women reporting a 24% increase

  • Mental wellbeing went up by 7% overall (considered a statistically significant increase on the widely recognised SWEMWEBS scale), with an even greater increase of 12% amongst young women

  • Physical activity, used as a tool both for physical health but to support mental wellbeing on our programmes, increased by 16% in over 16s and 21% in under 16s, with a 24% rise in young women – particularly encouraging as reports show female participation in sport decreasing

  • Young people noted a greater sense of connection with their local communities and an increased motivation to take action locally

The unstoppable drive and determination of world class athletes does not end when the Games close or at the final whistle. Their success does not stop at the podium or the trophies. Thousands of young people have already benefitted from our athlete led programmes, and we want to work with 10,000 more by 2031. For us this is the legacy of sport – harnessing the athlete’s unique skills and mindset to level the playing field for the next generation, unlocking young people’s potential, making a difference in their communities and shaping their futures.