The project is active in Hemlington and West Middlesbrough and aims to provide positive sporting role models in the community.
Players and coaches from Teesside Lions basketball club engage with young people in the area through a variety of methods including schools basketball sessions and community engagement. Role Models works alongside youth groups such as The Junction and Links, as well as Middlesbrough Neighbourhood Team to show young people that a life of crime is not their only option.
The project is funded primarily by CURV via Cleveland Office for Police and Crime Commissioner, with financial support from Thirteen and Teesside Lions themselves.
Community club sessions have been established at Kings Academy near Hemlington and Acorn Centre in Acklam, with a key objective of reducing serious violence and knife crime. The Cleveland area was recently marked as the worst area in the country for knife crime per capita.
James Thomson is chairman and a basketball coach with Teesside Lions. He is also the architect and director of Role Models. The 43-year-old has been involved in community basketball development for more than 26 years and believes the project is a significant one for the area.
“Basketball is a unique sport in its ability to embrace diversity," said Thomson. "It has an association with music, fashion and skill that makes it appealing to young people and an exciting game to watch.
“At Teesside Lions, we are able to engage people in a way that authoritarian figures such as police, teachers and parents may struggle, and our hope is to influence them away from a potential life of serious crime and violence, and into positive activity.”
Schools sessions have themes around topics such as respect, teamwork, anti-social behaviour and even altruism.
“Altruism is my favourite theme. It’s a word that not many are familiar with, so it sparks interest, and when we associate it with a fun game that encourages selfless behaviour to help others without reward or payment, it tends to have a positive impression. We then encourage them to practice the week’s theme and review at the following session.”
Young people within the project can access training sessions and even progress into teams. Rewards of free family tickets to watch the Lions' games encourage families to come together.