Going Big In Bristol

Anyone who follows professional cricketers on Twitter will be aware of the significance of Nando’s in the modern game. But as well as being popular with the game’s elite, the eat-quick Portuguese chicken restaurant is being used for cricket’s good in a very different way.

As part of the Chance to Shine Street Project in Easton, Bristol, the programme’s most committed young cricketers are rewarded with vouchers for a meal out at a local branch of the nationwide chain – just one way of helping to give the young people involved a sense of achievement, satisfaction and happiness.

The Easton project – run with the Gloucestershire Cricket Board – is remarkable in a number of ways, having recently taken on a cohort of new Afghan arrivals.

When Chris Munden, the cricket board’s project and programmes manager, was contacted with a request 18 months ago from social worker Anna Sopwith, he welcomed four new under 16 boys on to the Street programme. Not only were they talented cricketers being given an opportunity to play the game they love, they were also learning important language and social skills. In an already ethnically mixed group with boys of Indian, Pakistani and Caribbean heritage, the Afghan lads were welcomed warmly, the group mixed well and the Afghan incomers were beginning to pick up some English and in turn becoming more outgoing.

The success of the integration in the Street project (combined with the fact of a large Afghan population in Bristol) has led to the most substantial innovation of all: a new cricket club. ‘Bristol Afghans CC’ hopes to rival the other ethnically defined teams of the area, of which Bristol West Indies is a particularly long-standing and successful example.

The opportunity to put a group of like-minded young people together doing something they enjoy is especially rewarding – but would not have been possible without the crucial stepping-stone of the Chance to Shine Street project. “Getting these boys into full-blown local cricket clubs straight away could have been too much for them,” says Munden. “The language barrier, the costs, the cultural differences might have been too great. Our programme has allowed them to gradually get involved in the game in a way that they can enjoy.”

Although creating Bristol Aghans CC presents numerous challenges, including finding a home ground to play on, Munden insists there is momentum behind the project, with the youngsters and their community keen to continue to play the game they feel so strongly about at a competitive level.

And what about those Nando’s vouchers? “It sounds funny,” Munden says with a laugh, “but as far as I’m concerned that’s a few quid well spent. They keep turning up to cricket, they play well, they can then get to take their teammates out for dinner. It’s a treat for them and a sense of pride as well.”

Now, with the launch of the ‘Bristol Big Bash’ – in which numerous teams featuring boys from the project compete against one another, the restaurant is actually sponsoring the competition by providing free vouchers to the Man of the Match and the Player of the Tournament.

Social integration, fun playing cricket, the launch of a brand new team… and a good dinner at the end of it. It’s fair to say the Street project in Bristol is thriving.

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