Champions for Change football session

Champions for Change

Wellbeing project tackles social challenges in North Ayrshire communities

A project in North Ayrshire has been helping people in the Garnock Valley and Irvine communities make better life choices through sport.

Champions for Change (CFC) is a partnership between KA Leisure, North Ayrshire Active Schools and North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership and is one of 17 projects to benefit from the Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity programme, which is jointly funded by sportscotland, The Robertson Trust, Spirit of 2012 and Scottish Government.

The project uses sport and physical activity to promote active lifestyles and positive mental health to support and educate on the risks of drug and alcohol consumption in two socially deprived* areas of North Ayrshire.

As part of Champions for Change, two programmes have been launched focusing on two groups: primary school children and people involved in rehabilitation programmes for various reasons such as substance misuse or recent release from the prison system.

Alcohol and smoking education 

The alcohol and smoking education programme uses sport and physical activity to deliver messages around the dangers of smoking, drugs and alcohol to young people.

Prior to the pandemic, the programme was delivered in primary schools with help from pupils from local high schools Irvine Royal Academy, Garnock Academy and Greenwood Academy.

High-school pupils who don’t traditionally get involved in sport were trained to become Champions in their community and help experienced coaches deliver the programme.

This training was done in collaboration with the CFC Coordinator and North Ayrshire’s Active Schools coordinators, with the sessions being delivered by the North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP) as well as the Active Schools team.

Since the pandemic has restricted opportunities to get access to schools, in November 2020 the programme was adapted, and a pilot was delivered to five youth football teams in the Garnock Valley area.

The pilot of the club programme reached out to 70 young people with four sessions delivered to players of a similar age to the school sessions.

Scott Morrison, KA Leisure community sport manager and project lead, said: “The original aim of Champions for Change was to use the power of sport and physical activity to educate young people on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and smoking.

"Since the start of the programme, we have had to make a number of adaptions to our outcomes and delivery plan. These changes address local issues and allow us to continue supporting this agenda during what has been a difficult time for everyone.

“With an increase in mental health issues during the pandemic, this project will be more important than ever in continuing our support of the local community in making positive lifestyle choices and we’re excited to get restarted when current restrictions allow.”

To help deliver the alcohol and smoking education programme, a resource is being created which will allow clubs and teachers to deliver the programme on their own.

Rehabilitation programmes

The second programme aims to integrate sport and physical activity within the rehabilitation programmes through the North Ayrshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership (ADP). 

The ADP was established to bring together key agencies and stakeholders to tackle the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs in the community.

Twenty-five people have had a referral through this partnership with each receiving a free three-month gym membership which includes access to all KA Leisure facilities such as swimming pools, gym classes, gym suite and golf courses.

Champions for Change project coordinator Craig McBirnie said: “The aim for this strand of the project was to integrate physical activity within local alcohol/drug rehabilitation and judicial rehabilitation programmes.

“By providing sport and physical activity we hope this will be the outlet the participants need to enjoy all the physical and mental health benefits physical activity can bring to get their lives back on track.

"We will ensure the individuals who are referred are at the heart of our delivery and will receive all the support they need to get started.”

Once restrictions have eased, plans have been made to create more social groups and opportunities for participants to form friendships and trust with others who have experienced similar issues, with walking and jogging groups, small gym sessions and five-a-side football all in the pipeline.

* Based on Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)

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