Free to be me

Every Friday evening, young girls in Sunderland peer out their windows, awaiting the bus that will take them to Young Asian Voices (YAV). After a long week, coming together and playing cricket in a safe, community space is just the opportunity they need. A chance to run free. 

For 27 years, YAV has been a leading force for inclusion in the city. It was founded in a time of heightened racial tensions and gender inequity. There were few, if any, platforms for children to play cricket. 

Now, working in partnership with Chance to Shine, the community group are a shining example of how local knowledge and community ties can help Street projects to thrive. Both boys and girls sessions run on a weekly basis, but it’s not just the participants who are thriving – the coaches are too.

Despite growing up with a love for cricket, Shahzana never imagined being a coach. She was encouraged by Ram, the Executive Manager of YAV, to get trained. As a Pakistani woman from Yorkshire, she has become a role model to the children and recognises the role the girls project in particular plays in their development. ‘Having YAV gives them confidence, it’s somewhere they feel safe. They know they can share anything with us, we’ll sit down, have conversations. This is a little bit of freedom, to be able to come out, be who they are, do what they want and have fun.’

Before the programme started, Ram faced a challenge to get young people engaged in the sport, ‘Not many kids were interested in cricket… I said to Durham (Cricket Board), I want to develop something here but I need your support. We started to do some Street cricket and now we’ve got many teams, boys and girls.’

With sessions also focussing on mental wellbeing, girls are given the opportunity to be themselves. This approach paid dividends last summer, where they won the National Street Finals competition – fending off projects from across the country at Lord’s. ‘The girls need a route where they can relax and not be judged,’ Shahzana says. ‘If someone is having a bad day, we’ll give them a camera to take photographs or keep score for us so they’re still engaged.’

When she first joined, Reshma was nervous. However, cricket grew on her and supported her to find the courage to get involved in her community. In 2022, she won the Sunderland Young Peers Award in recognition of her volunteerism. ‘I would like to keep playing cricket. This space means a lot to me because all my friends, all the YAV staff, they know me a lot. They make me feel comfortable and confident.’

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