Shine bright like a diamond!

When Clare Sanderson was approached to start a girls’ cricket session in Harehills, Leeds, she was facing an almighty challenge. Harehills is the most deprived ward in the city and 63% of residents are from minority ethnic backgrounds, a group significantly under-represented in sport. Furthermore, over 40% of children in the area leave primary school obese or overweight. The odds of Clare getting the session off the ground were stacked against her.

But fast-forward 12 months, Clare is running a passionate, vibrant session for around 25 girls every week. Most come from South Asian backgrounds and, for many, this is the only opportunity outside of school that they have to get physically active. Nine year-old Sarah tells us “Before I came here, I never really played any cricket. What makes me come back every week is how fun it is and how much I enjoy it and on the weekend I really don’t have anything to do so it cheers me up.” Clare encouraged the girls to take ownership of the sessions and they named themselves the Heera-Ranis combining Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu words to mean Diamond Queens.

For Clare, the success of the project has come from providing the girls with the chance to take part: “It’s [about] giving the girls the opportunity really early on and it’s not about them excelling at cricket, it’s just about getting them out the house and enjoying themselves.” Mum of three of the participants Sophia is full of praise: “There’s so many opportunities for boys but for my girls, they had nowhere to go. If it wasn’t for this, they’d probably be sat on the couch, bored! This keeps the kids off the streets, it gets the kids to grow and have their own identity.”

Sophia’s 14 year-old daughter Kiran recognises the lack of alternative opportunities to get active, “I didn’t have any experience of cricket [before]. We had nothing in our community. I’ve always loved cricket but this is a chance to do it in our community. Rather than sitting at home, it’s better to come here. Coming here, you keep fit, you keep healthy. It’s a chance to keep exercising every Saturday.”

Clare and Margaret, a support worker from Leeds City Council, have built a positive atmosphere where the girls can feel safe and comfortable and where parents are happy to leave their children for a couple of hours each week. Sophia explains why: “Clare and Margaret understand the girls. They talk to the girls on a personal level, it doesn’t need to be about cricket.

 

 

“It’s more like they’re family, they know our kids better than anybody.”

The Chance to Shine Street project is empowering the girls and helping them to grow in confidence. Each week different girls are given the responsibility of being captains for the session. For Sarah this has helped her to grow and develop: “First I was a really shy girl but now I’m not shy anymore because of cricket, it’s helped me. Being a captain, making choices.”

Another of the young cricketers Maryam says, with conviction, “Me not coming is me missing out on having fun. My confidence has really grown since playing here, I’ve been able to show myself, my true self in cricket.”

Thanks to the commitment and passion of Clare and Margaret, the challenges and barriers that have been put in front of these girls are being smashed. One year into the programme, Clare is certainly seeing the benefits: “When I see that door burst open at four o’clock on a Saturday and 20 smiling faces run in, it’s a pretty awesome feeling.”

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