BLOG: "Building, connecting and empowering communities through cricket is something else"

Diverse communities in urban environments are being given new opportunities to interact, grow, and develop crucial community cohesion through the ground-breaking Core Cities programme. Manpreet Panesar, Senior Manager Diverse Communities at the ECB, reflects on its impact and its future growth plans.

The Core Cities programme was set up in partnership with Sport England back in 2018. Initially, it was designed to support the South Asian Action Plan and the idea was that it would focus on the cities that had the largest South Asian demographics. But, over time, we’ve looked to expand its reach. 

Today, 18 staff work across 13 cities driving participation and growth at the grassroots level. And we’re hugely proud that we are playing an important part in breaking down barriers and inspiring more people to feel part of our game. 

A huge amount of credit must go to those 18 Core Cities staff, community leaders and Volunteers. Employed by County Cricket Boards (CCBs), with the ECB in an oversight role, they’ve made an enormous difference across the country. Their work has been a shining example of how cricket can have an incredible community impact. 

In simple terms, the Core Cities programme has four key community pillars that are enacted to support local and national agendas: 

  • Listening: engaging and maintaining dialogue with communities to further cricket and community initiatives. 
  • Partnerships: working with local and national organisations to deliver our purpose. 
  • Support: tactical funding to help CCBs lead on community initiatives and localised challenges and opportunities, on areas such as refugee relocation, COVID-19, the cost of living, and youth-work programmes. 
  • Urban hubs: creating safe spaces that connect communities and bring together cricket and other local offers – such as coffee mornings, mental health awareness initiatives, community cohesion projects, soft ball, tape ball, or wellbeing programmes – in central locations. 

Communities in Birmingham, Bradford, Kirklees, Leeds, Leicester, London (Middlesex), London (Essex), London (Surrey), Luton, Manchester, Sandwell, Slough, and Nottingham have all seen the benefits of the Core Cities programme. 

In 2022 alone, the number of under 14s reached through Core Cities initiatives has jumped almost 94% from 7,761 to 15,050. The number of women and girls reached has leapt 133% from 3,671 to 8,566. But away from the figures, it is the sheer variety of activity that has been most eye-catching. 

In Surrey, children aged 13-16 from foster care, refugee backgrounds, homelessness and challenging upbringings have been given the chance to take part in regular cricket and work development sessions at The Kia Oval. The Yorkshire Foundation has worked to take inner-city children with deprived backgrounds from Leeds and Bradford to play beach cricket at Scarborough. Glow in the Dark cricket sessions in Warwickshire are providing safe spaces in school from girls to enjoy cricket. And a pan-London Afghan refugee support programme has seen refugees based in Essex, Surrey and Middlesex all receive community support through the power of cricket. 

Ultimately, the key focus is about working with the right partners to establish sustainable pathways for children; to engage young people, adults, and communities; and to use cricket to make a difference, break barriers and make lifelong connections. 

I’ve always had a passion for building and connecting communities, it’s something I strive for in everything we do and watching this happen through the power of cricket is something else, especially on a national scale. Seeing those lived experiences, hearing those stories, working with the County Cricket Boards, those community leads, volunteers and seeing that there are others out there, who just want to enjoy our great game and use it to build communities is something that puts a smile on my face every time I see negative news, and there is a lot of it right now.  

I know we are making a difference from grass roots upwards. That one day, it doesn’t matter who or what you are, where you are from, your faith, your background, we will see the next superstar arrive, that represents ‘us’ as a community and that is a wonderful feeling. 

Looking ahead to 2023, the Dream Big Desi Women ambassadors will also come on board as part of an overall alignment between Core Cities and the South Asian Female Volunteer programme. That should give us even more scope to empower urban areas through the power of cricket. Whether it’s building community cohesion, making sure children are fed during school holidays or helping to tackle localised mental health crises, we’re so proud of the impact Core Cities has had – and we know there is even more to come.