How having a kick around can change communities for the better.
Interviewee: Michael Wallace
Writer: Donnie Rust
A community project aimed at not only providing opportunities through sport for young people around the UK, but also creating bridges between communities and the authorities that protect them, KickOff@3 has been an invaluable tool of creating change since its start in 2017.
Founded by Michael Wallace and Ashley Levien, both likeminded sports enthusiasts with a passion for football, the main goal was to be a cause for change. Coming from similar backgrounds, they wanted to ensure that young people from every community were able to have the opportunities that they did not.
Strong advocates for equality, the pair of them have dedicated themselves to this mission not only within the initiative but outside of it as well. Michael is a community engagement officer for the police and Ashley is a London bus driver who is and has very involved in many worthwhile community focussed projects.
“Sport has a unique ability to bring communities together,” Michael says, “KickOff@3 has in the last couple of years broken down barriers, created friendships and opened doors, irrespective of race, gender or postcode.”
Michael and Ashley have been friends for coming on eight years now and with their passion for their sport and their desire to improve communities being very much aligned, KickOff@3 was an idea that fit perfectly.
“I grew up in an era of challenges as a Windrush baby of Jamaican immigrants to Britain,” Michael explains, “I lived in Lambeth Borough and experienced first-hand the conflicts of inequality and how communities can be defined by their postcodes.”
Speaking with Michael, who has been with the police for twelve years now, it’s clear that he is a man with his feet firmly on the ground. Jovial and very likeable he joined the police in his mid-thirties and says that he was equipped with a range of tools that he could apply in his role.
“I was able to make use of life skills and community knowledge to build bridges in various communities,” he says, “Creating real change and our initiatives have become a part of this.”
A major part of the initiative is to build trust and relationships between the police and the community. With this in mind it is a source of pride for Michael and Ashley that they have young people contact them who want to be involved in the initiative and do their part.
“It proves that we are making a difference,” he says.
Michael has seen how the smallest thing can have the biggest impact on a young person’s life. How a supportive comment on someone’s performance or idea can create an upward spiral of positive thinking that can have huge results later on in life. And, KickOff@3 certainly does provide big opportunities, as demonstrated when one of the players involved in the charity tournaments was spotted and signed for a professional contract in Wimbledon.
“The tournaments attract a lot of undiscovered talent and thanks to this it attracts a lot of scouts as well,” Michael says, “But we are just as proud of every opportunity we create for young people to be magnificent.”
For example, a student from Durham university used their initiative for his dissertation and was awarded top marks. And, another player from the 2018 finale, chose to go on the blood stem register and last year came back as a match for a family. He is a young 18 year old from Durham and is now on the register with the potential to save someone’s life!
“Football may be the catalyst,” he says, “But playing that is the easy part. It is the engagement, the relationship building, the charity work and the helping young people realise just how much of an impact they can have in the world. That is the real focus.”
One of the things that Michael and Ashley believe that KickOff@3 is very good at is breaking down barriers and changing preconceived ideas and stereotypes. Discrimination can come in many forms, for example being overlooked. Michael’s son has autism and as such he has seen how many of these events do not actively invite children with disabilities because they think they cannot participate.
“Sport is open to everyone, regardless of disability, gender, race or orientation,” he says, “Everyone should feel welcomed to play and inequality in whatever form should not be tolerated.”
FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL
Michael is first to admit that, as a football fan who grew up in a family of footballers, he did not realise how popular basketball was in the UK. He is quite candid about this, “As kids we grew up kicking a ball around and my brother Adam Wallace went on to play professionally in Belgium then went on to play in The Far East and Ireland and represented Jamaica at National under twenty three. We didn’t really play basketball much.”
However, it was very clear that the same impact could be had with basketball and KickOff@3 now has a sister version named TipOff@3 and uses the same template. Summer Madness UK is a partnership where the two work well together. Part of this success is because kids today are very seldomly one or the other and are often exposed to a variety of different sports to play with their friends.
“The only problem is that in the UK basketball is not seen as much as football and does not have the same size of support,” he says, “But the thing for us is that they both give us the chance to offer a strong community edge that are not unnecessarily competitive.”
Many mainstream events can become very competitive, but Michael and Ashley’s ethos is very much about staying community minded. Michael reveals that before every tournament they hold a minute silence for all those that have been lost to knife and gun crime around the country. This vigil is held both for the football and basketball events and sets the focus on the community and reminds everyone how important it is to stick together.
It is a sad fact that postcodes can still create prejudice and conflict between people. According to Michael, this demonstrates the real value of these initiatives even more. Even when there is an automatic edge that can be very competitive, initiatives like KickOff@3 gives them the opportunity to break that barrier straight away.
“We have no postcodes here,” he says.
Two of the key organisations that supported KickOff@3 from the first were the Metropolitan Black Police Association, who support officers and staff of colour and a have a vigorous community focus and the Royal Airforce who are a symbol of team work and cooperation in Britain.
“We owe a great deal to them as they supported us from the start when Ashley and I were just having ideas,” Michael says, “They saw the potential and went with it and they were there from the start.”
In an exclusive sneak peek for #Sportsider, Michael reveals that over the next few months they are going to be running twenty three tournaments in fourteen parts of the country. These will be run by the police forces and aimed at the 13 and 16 year old age group. The winners will then represent their police force in the national final on Sunday the 28th June which is no doubt going to be an epic event!
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
As these initiatives have been bootstrapped from the start, with the planning, organising and execution all taking place in their own time, Michael is very grateful for the support and commitment from partners and organisations willing to believe in it.
“What we are doing counts,” he says, “It is important, and it nurtures positive change in the hearts and minds of young people. It’s a legacy that we want to be able to pass on and grow and is something we will always be proud of.”