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PBE economists prove that sport has the power to put lives back on track

With an annual turnover of just over £200K, Street Soccer Academy programmes have the potential deliver up to £2 million in social benefits, according to top economists volunteering through Pro Bono Economics

We all know that active participation in sport is good for us -- it improves our health, wellbeing and even happiness -- but what are its quantifiable benefits to society?

Beyond improving health, can sport and exercise really make a positive impact on someone’s life – especially if it has gone off the rails? Make them less lonely, keep them out of trouble with the police, or help them get a job?  And even if sport can do all of these things, is it affordable?

Street Soccer Academy (SSA) wanted to find the answers to these questions. Established in 2010, it is a small charity based in Greater Manchester which uses football and fitness to help people with complex needs. It wanted to produce a compelling ‘business case’ to secure future funding and so continue to engage successfully with disadvantaged people through football and sport.

The charity turned to Pro Bono Economics, established in 2009 by Martin Brookes (Tomorrow’s People) and Andy Haldane (Bank of England). Also a charity, Pro Bono Economics matches professional economists, working as volunteers or on a voluntary basis, with charities and social enterprises that want to understand and improve their impact and value.    

In this instance, Pro Bono Economics matched Street Soccer Academy with Regeneris Consulting, a specialist economics firm with an office in Manchester. With the aim of producing an economic and social impact assessment, Regeneris’ economists spent a number of months devising metrics to define and measure the economic and social benefits achieved by Street Soccer Academy over a typical year.

Through its two main programmes, Street Soccer and Street Fit, Street Soccer Academy uses football (and sport more generally) to engage with isolated people, who have in many cases been left behind by society, and then works with them through one-on-one mentoring and education and employment interventions, helping them reintegrate into society and contribute to it more fully.

"The impact report produced by Pro Bono Economics is invaluable for Street Soccer Academy, as we hope it will demonstrate to our grant funders and private donors that our work through sport makes a real difference to the vulnerable people we aim to help.   In normal circumstances, acquiring such a high-quality report at this stage of our development would not be financially feasible, but thanks to Regeneris and Pro Bono Economics we are now able to demonstrate an evidence base for our work."

Andrew Thorp, CEO at Street Soccer Academy

The economic impact: Street Soccer Academy delivers a social return of up to £10 for every £1 invested

The impact report, published today by Pro Bono Economics, found that for every £100 invested (£200K in a year), the charity added £40 in the form of in-kind contributions (which totalled £81,700) and volunteer time (£18,600). This funding helped Street Soccer Academy to engage with 451 people – many of them experiencing serious problems with family relationships, physical and mental health, drugs and alcohol dependency and self-worth, and with gaining skills and access to learning and employment.  A total of 356 people participated in fitness and sport through Street Soccer Academy’s programmes; 82 of them completed the charity’s accredited courses, and 21 of the participants progressed back into work.  Among a pilot group of 60 people, 50% reported an overall improvement in their wellbeing.                           

Going on to examine the longer-term benefits to society, as participants start to live productive lives, the economists at Regeneris calculated that for £209k of income, Street Soccer Academy programmes have the potential to generate as much as £2 million in net social benefits (with £2 million being the upper bound of the possible social value of the programme). More simply put, for every £1 invested, the charity delivers a social return on investment of £10 (as an upper estimate).

“It is charities like Street Soccer Academy that are the real stars of sport, as this report demonstrates.   With an annual investment of just £463 in each participant, less than a 12-month subscription to Sky Sports, Street Soccer Academy has proved that sport really can achieve a substantial social impact.  We hope that this report guarantees the charity’s financial future, so that it can continue to make a difference and help still more people integrate back into society.”

Julia Grant, Chief Executive of Pro Bono Economics

Reducing prisoners’ re-offending rates by more than two-thirds

Perhaps even more striking is the charity’s work with inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Forest Bank.  For over six years, Street Soccer Academy has been working with the prison to provide positive engagement with inmates through SoccerFit and StreetFit. It also offers continued support to former inmates as they re-adjust to being members of society.  Upon release, of the 58 inmates who had signed up for SoccerFit and StreetFit, 91% voluntarily chose to continue with the programmes. Crucially, while the national average for reoffending in the12 months after release is 25%, the figure for Forest Bank’s Street Soccer Academy participants was substantially lower –- just 7%.

“Working with Street Soccer Academy has been a hugely satisfying experience for me.   As economists it is important for us to use our knowledge and experience as a force for good in society.   Economics is more than just financial modelling for government or business, it is about understanding the immediate and long-term social impact of the way money is spent.  Pro Bono Economics provides a fantastic opportunity for both economists and charities to apply and develop their skills, and I would encourage other economists to get involved."

Volunteer economist Gemal Mekki from Regeneris

7th February 2017