Youth club members of African Families in the UK (AFiUK)

A community group which supports African families in Colchester has praised the “fantastic” success of a new Active Essex basketball project which has more than doubled the number of its youth club members.

African Families in the UK (AFiUK) is a community-interest company established in 2015 by Rachel Wainaina-Walton and Jacqui Giatu to help African and other ethnic minority children and their families adapt to British life and play active roles in their communities in Colchester.

AFiUK holds workshops and seminars to help families with parenting styles and cultural family practices in Britain, as well as a host of other activities such as meetings with professionals including the police, social workers and other support agencies.

Active Essex, the sport and physical activity partnership for Greater Essex, recently provided Sport England National Lottery funding to AFiUK to run professional basketball coaching sessions at the group’s youth club, held every Saturday at Colchester Townhouse in East Stockwell Street. The club provides a safe space for those typically aged 14 to 18 to socialise and explore their culture.

Through the Colchester Citizens Alliance, Active Essex reached out to AFiUK after learning several children had started playing basketball at the venue but needed professional support to fully reap the sport’s benefits, such as teamwork, communication and co-ordination skills.

Since Active Essex started providing two fully-qualified basketball coaches to run the sessions in October 2018, the number of regular weekly participants has risen from approximately 15 to 35 as more and more youngsters who were previously reluctant to take part in any sport quickly discovered a passion for basketball.

“The impact of the basketball sessions has been fantastic and really surprising,” Rachel said. “Before the coaches arrived, they just used to play around a little. Now there’s a big, professional structure and it’s just grown and grown into something fantastic.

“Our young people are learning important life skills such as teamwork and communication, it has boosted their self-esteem, and great friendships have formed. They have improved their physical well-being, but most of all they have become confident young people.

“The exercise is also helping to relieve stress and tensions. It’s a release for them: transferring their energy to positive outcomes. Not too much is expected of them, and it is really bringing the best out of them. Even some of their parents are playing!”

Active Essex arranged for over a dozen participants to attend a recent Essex Rebels Basketball game at the University of Essex to further inspire them. Youth club members now want to form a team and enter the local basketball youth league.

Habiba Abdenbi, 18, speaking alongside fellow AFiUK youth club member Zina Khelifi, also 18, said: “Honestly, the idea of playing basketball was not so convincing for us, but when we started, we literally loved it! We did not expect so much help, since we are not very good, but we really got along very well and we are happy to have decided to be part of the team.”

Rachel added: “Everyone loved watching the game at the university and they just love basketball. It’s also been great for us to move our youth club to another level as a result of the project. We are really grateful to Active Essex and hope the momentum continues.”

Simon King, Active Essex’s Relationship Manager for Mid Essex, said: “AFiUK wanted to provide extra sporting provision at their youth club and we have been delighted with the impact of our basketball programme. This is a great example of Active Essex working with a small community group and helping to deliver their physical activity needs – it supports our ambition of changing one million lives in Essex by getting people active.”

For more details, visit africanfamiliesuk.wixsite.com/afiuk or www.activeessex.org