Jasper Kain

A former Chelsea and Gillingham youth player, film maker and community organiser, Jasper combined his talents to set up FBB.  

Jasper set up FBB with a group of friends whilst studying at the University of London. Having played for Chelsea youth, he had aspirations like so many other teenagers of becoming a professional footballer. He was released but reflected that football had been the most important aspect of his life growing up and had the capacity to transform the lives of countless others.

He is passionate about making learning relevant and fun and sees football as the perfect way of motivating young people who are disengaged. He is an Ernie Shackleton Award winner and was shortlisted for the Daily Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards in 2015.

Background…

Where are you from?
I am originally from Kent. My parents moved out of London just before I was born and I would come to the capital quite often because I played a decent level of football which involved me coming here. I moved to London permanently as an 18 year old and have been here ever since.

What role did sport play in your life as a young person?
Sport changed my life. I was a restless child who was full of energy and sport enabled me to channel this in a constructive manner. I was the youngest child of three and had to be quite competitive to earn my right to play. This lead me to play a good level of football, cricket and tennis. However, football was ultimately my first love and this really started to take hold as I played academy football in my teens. This experience was hugely formative. Looking back on it now, it made me disciplined and driven. I knew that I wanted to become a professional footballer and involved a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I ended up getting a bad injury and this resulted in me being released. I found this to be a huge setback at the time but I was able to use this as an opportunity for growth to apply myself in other areas of my life.

Who influenced you as a young person?
My mum was a huge influence. She is an extremely caring person who was a devoted mother. This unconditional love provided the security for me to go out and explore.
I also had a secondary school teacher called Mr Burge from the age of 11 to 13. He had been one of the best badminton players in the UK. He identified my sporting ability but really tried to push me as a leader by giving me lots of added responsibilities. I really respected him and he made me reflect on how I conducted myself as a person off the pitch and spurred me on to be a better person.

What is your educational background?
I went to a local primary and secondary school. However at the age of 13, I sat an exam to a Grammar School in Kent. I was successful and moved across. Although this was beneficial for my education and prospects, I found it difficult at the time. I had to leave behind a lot of friends and the school played rugby and not football.
From here I would go to University to study Social Anthropology and Politics where I would receive a First Class Honours from the University of London.

What is your career background?
After I left University I went on to have two jobs. I set up a film production company with a friend and made documentaries. I also worked as a Community Organiser, working on several Council Estates in South London to support local residents to improve their lives.

Pick three words to describe yourself?
Ambitious, passionate and kind

What do you do in your spare time/hobbies?
I love to go on long walks in nature. I try to do this every Sunday to practice being fully present and give myself some breathing space from work.

How long have you been with the FBB for and what led you to become involved?
The London Riots of 2011 happened and I felt compelled to do something. I got the sense that a lot of the young people in London were very angry and didn’t have a way to express it. I ended up volunteering on a Friday evening at a youth centre in Camberwell; I just used to go down there and quickly realised that young people need to develop trust in order to build a relationship, and need a way of communicating, and the easiest way I knew to do that was through playing football. I started running ad hoc drop-in football sessions on a Wednesday evening in Kennington Park and boys would come from Brixton, Peckham, Walworth Road… They’d come together, and we had a really simple philosophy; no swearing, no weapons, no bikes on the astroturf. We ended up doing a project at a school, and that’s when everything changed. We registered as a charity and started to formalise the organisation. This involved me going full time in late 2014 and the rest is history.

Why do you think sports works so well to engage young people?
Sport can change young people’s lives. It provides a way of allowing young people to connect with their emotions and learn through doing. If you are a young person who doesn’t like to sit down for long periods of time it can provide a space for you to learn.
It also provides a context for strong relationships to develop through doing a shared activity together with a common goal. If you label young people as bad and naughty they will often live up to this label. If you start to believe in young people and give them recognition then they can exceed expectations. Coaches can do this easily through sport and engender self-belief and transform young people into believing they are capable learners.

What are some of the main challenges the young people you work with face?
We work within schools and constraints on resources in education have created a challenging environment in recent years. School exclusions have gone up by 40% in the past 3 years.
For the young person, there is a powerful and immediate sense of everyone giving up on them when this takes place. They are shown that they don’t belong in their local school and that no one expects them to succeed. And at PRUs and Alternative Provision schools, regardless of how good these schools are, an excluded young person is immediately surrounded by peers who also feel like everyone has given up on them. The consequences are often very poor GCSE results, sky high unemployment, lifelong mental health challenges, and a much higher chance of violence and prison.
The link between this early childhood trauma and school exclusion is clear. Traumatic experiences in childhood make it hard to trust adults, with every telling off from a teacher reminding students of something much more threatening from their past. Traumatic experiences in childhood make it hard to concentrate in class, with students focusing all their energy on staying safe from everyone around them.
Schools often expect a quick fix and this can be unrealistic.

What positive changes have you seen since you began with FBB?
I have seen countless examples of young people who have been on the verge of exclusion at school but changed the trajectory of their lives through FBB. This has involved working closely with committed teachers and engaging their parents or carers to change the way that young people perceive themselves and what they feel they are capable of. We see all behaviour as a form of communication and addressing the underlying causes of what is being expressed.
Providing these young people with positive and trusting adult relationships along with a safe space to work through their experiences can transform their perspective of themselves and of the world, and ultimately their approach to school. This has seen students who are prone to displaying challenging behaviour (whether it is confrontational or being withdrawn) becoming much more positive in how they express themselves. They become more self-aware, able to regulate their emotions and make more responsible and ultimately positive decisions on a regular basis.
Our model has moved forward in terms of the therapeutic support we can offer. More often than not, young people who are at risk of exclusion in school have experienced some sort of trauma. Generally, because of the challenges with child mental health services, those referrals don’t get made – either they don’t turn up or they get bounced back because it’s seen as a behavioural issue. Unless it’s a suicide or self-harming issues they don’t tend to make the threshold so those issues don’t get addressed and they manifest in negative behaviour. We have really pushed for embedding therapists within our programmes who are relatable role models. In the past academic year, we saw 93% of our at risk young people remaining in mainstream education.

What impact would you like to achieve going forward?
We would like to become the leading national specialist for disengaged Key Stage 3 students. This will involve us rolling out our methodology to hundreds of teachers and youth workers nationwide so that we can change the lives of thousands of young people each year.
We would like to build a robust charity with a progressive developmental culture which upskills staff who are representative of the communities that we work in and stay working for FBB for a long time.
Finally, we would like to play a central role in reducing the number of school exclusions taking place in the UK.

Who/what do you rely on to create the impact in your community?
Young people need stability which is derived from having consistent relationships in their lives. This means you need a committed and skilled team with little staff turnover. You have to ensure that there is sufficient training in place so that they can develop their craft to develop the social and emotional skills of a young person.
You also need to improve parental engagement and the approach that schools have towards poor behaviour.

What have been some of your biggest learnings so far?
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the internal working culture. We have 3 core values. When you work for FBB we recruit, induct, train and work based on 3 values. The first one is that we put young people first, the second is that we care, so self-care and care for one another and the third is that we learn.
We are a learning organisation and this entails being receptive to giving and receiving feedback which is really important and we also have a culture of developing a growth mindset.
You have to create an environment in which staff can be themselves within a context of clearly defined expectations.

What are some of the challenges you face going forward?
The first is ensuring that the impact of our programmes remain as we scale. We now have 56 programmes running each a week and we have to ensure consistency across them all.
Secondly, in order to maximise the impact of our programmes we have enhanced the expertise of our staff. Through developing the therapeutic element of our approach as well as reducing the caseload of young people our staff work with it has added extra cost to each programme. This means that for each programme we set up there is a deficit of around £8k which we have to fund from external sources.
Finally, we are still perceived as a football coaching company even though our model is much more comprehensive than this. Yes there is football but there is also an educational component which improves behaviour for learning and literacy as well as 121 interventions for the most vulnerable young people.

How much of your time do you dedicate to fundraising over the implementation of the programme?
I spend about 75% of my time fundraising. It is a far cry from the time 5 years ago when I was delivering sessions with young people on the frontline. However, I am really proud of the work that my colleagues do to support young people and find purpose in trying to bring in the resources to make this possible at the largest scale possible.
Outside of this, I am heavily involved in the development of our team as well as trying to grow the external profile of the charity.

What are some of the best or most memorable experiences you have had?
There are many.
One particular highlight is the story of a former participant who started on our programmes at the age of 13. She was the only girl on a boys programme and was suffering from mental health issues at the time. This was compounded by the fact that her dad did not believe she should be playing football because it was a ‘boys’ sport.
Her journey has been nothing short of phenomenal. She delivered a presentation to the Nike Global team last year on behalf of FBB and the Global Vice President was so impressed by her that they swapped details and she visited him at the Global HQ in Portland USA recently when was part of their global Black History Month campaign. She now works part time as a youth mentor for FBB, whilst completing her
A Levels and intends to study at the University of London next year.

Who/what inspires you?
The team that surround me. We are bound together by the belief that young people are capable of amazing things. They work tirelessly to improve the lives of young people. So much of what they do is unseen work but leads to the betterment of society. The organisation started as an idea with very humble origins but is now becoming a nationally recognised organisation with real expertise.

What would be your message to others trying to create impact in their communities?
Be patient, persevere and do not try to cut corners. You learn more from experiences that do not go to plan! You have to pilot different things and you should do so with an open mind and a desire to evaluate what takes place and learn from it. We work with young people at a really formative stage of their lives as they transition into adolescence. Often their lives are in a state of flux as they develop physically, psychologically and socially and it can be difficult to navigate this effectively. This will entail creating a really robust support network around a young person so that they feel secure and their emotions are validated.

  • Jasper Kain