Active Communities Network

Asda Foundation / Active Communities Network Partnership

Since 2013 the Asda Foundation has had a strategic partnership with the UK Charity, Active Communities Network. Initially focusing on pilot projects in London and Belfast the partnership has focused on delivering programmes at the heart of some of the most deprived and excluded communities in the UK to deliver:

  • Year round activities comprising of sport and positive activities to engage at risk young people at key times.
  • Personal and social development sessions to help young people overcome behavioural, educational and lifestyle problems and build self-confidence, communication skills and aspirations.
  • Accredited and vocational training programmes to encourage young people to volunteer in their own communities and access further education.
  • Pathways into work experience, work placements, and traineeships / jobs to improve employability, entrepreneurship and employment.

Ours is a partnership in the truest sense, and the Asda Foundation and Active Communities Network have also trained over 200 Asda Community colleagues in accredited sports, youth work and mentoring courses, enabling them to engage locally with projects as mentors, coaches and in delivering work experience and events with participants in the programme.

From 2015 our partnership has extended across the UK – with launches in Westminster with the employment minister Preeti Patel, Stormont with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and an event planned in Wales for summer 2016. The national programme is focusing on hub programmes in London, Bristol, Newport, Gwent, Manchester, Hull, Doncaster, Belfast, Coleraine, Omagh and Portadown.

Our partnership also seeks to inform how both charities and business works in disadvantaged communities to address a range of social and economic agendas, and so our programme is being evaluated by the University of Gloucestershire (England and Wales) and University of Ulster (Northern Ireland) to identify best practice and scalability.

Moving forward the partnership is now developing a bespoke Asda Foundation / Active Communities Network accredited training programme for Community Champions and other colleagues working to extend the reach of Asda as a key contributor to local community life.

Up to April 2016 the partnership has engaged 14,000 young people, with over 2,000 achieving educational qualifications and undertaking work placements / jobs – and was awarded a high commendation award at the highly prestigious Business Charity Awards in the ‘Best Project’ category in central London.

Case Studies

North and West Belfast youth set to benefit from Asda Foundation and Active Communities network programme partnership
  • Asda Foundation makes biggest contribution to date in Northern Ireland
  • Partnership launched at prestigious Belfast City Hall
  • Programme focuses on improving employability of youngsters throughout the capital
  • Targets areas of high social deprivation and some of Belfast’s most ‘at risk’ young people
  • Delivers clear progression pathways into citizenship, volunteering and accredited training
  • Adds to Active Communities Network and Asda Foundation programme partnership in London which launched in late 2013

Belfast, Northern Ireland – Thursday 3 April 2014: The Asda Foundation has donated £58,000 to charity Active Communities Network - the largest provided by the Asda Foundation to a local charity or group to date - to support the charity’s outreach into areas with high social deprivation, targeting some of Northern Ireland’s most ‘at risk’ young people and delivering clear progression pathways into citizenship and employment.

The announcement was made at the launch of the partnership yesterday at Belfast City Hall with over 50 people attending the which hosted by the Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. The partnership will specifically target areas of North and West Belfast, supported by the Asda Shore Road and Asda Westwood stores, where outreach programmes are already underway.

As well as the financial contribution, the partnership will also see Asda Community Life Champions and colleagues from the two participating stores mentor young people, shadowing them during sport and youth work programmes as well as offering them work placement opportunities.

Active Communities Network has been operating in Belfast since 2009 promoting personal, social and community development for young people through sport, physical activity, arts and culture.

Julie Ward, Asda Foundation Senior Manager said: “This is the biggest commitment made by the Asda Foundation to date in Northern Ireland, so we were delighted to welcome political and community representatives to our introduction event this week to learn more.”

“This partnership will benefit not just the young people who take part, but the wider communities in which they live. This is not just a monetary donation; colleagues from our Shore Road and Westwood stores will be on hand to help these youngsters relate to the workplace.”

Gary Stannett MBE, CEO, Active Communities Network said: “Following on from our success with the Asda Foundation and Active Communities Network programme partnership in London we welcome the opportunity to extend the partnership into Belfast.”

“It was fantastic to meet so many stakeholders here in Belfast who are passionate about improving the lives of their young people and this commitment from Asda will help take this programme to the next level.”

For more information about the partnership programme or to get involved, contact Active Communities Network on 02890 245 969 or email

Gary Stannett - Active Communities Network

We caught up with Gary Stannett, CEO of Active Communities Network, a youth and community development charity and one of our strategic partnerships for an in depth interview about the work they do, and how we’ve grown our relationship over the last 2 years.

Gary tell us about the purpose behind Active Communities Network?

Active Communities Network (ACN) is a registered charity that was established in 2007 by a collective of frontline youth workers and coaches who were disillusioned with the way established charities and sports bodies engaged with young people in disadvantaged communities. At the time policy at a national level seemed to label all young people as potential criminals, and activities were established primarily to 'divert' them from crime.

Our experiences were that young people in the communities in which we worked had a lot of talent, wanted to be listened to, had ambitions - but due to any number of circumstances lacked the support, understanding and opportunities to help them achieve. We were also convinced that by actively looking to work with the most excluded groups in society we could have a huge impact not only on the individual but the wider communities in which they live.

Recognising that sports in particular, and cultural activities more broadly, provided a platform to engage young people in activities that they enjoy, and also provided a platform for personal development, we have developed a methodology that enables our workers (who are trained as coaches, youth workers and entry level teachers) to broaden young peoples horizons, raise aspirations and offer pathways to achievement.

With that in place, from 2009 we have sought to establish an evidence base for our work, and a training package to support other frontline organisations to deliver our methodology. Since then we have published seven different research reports by Universities and academics, ranging from one year analysis of social return on investment, to three year action research reports looking at how sport can impact on community cohesion (Substance Research Group), youth crime (University of Gloucester), young people at risk (University of Ulster).

We have also developed an accredited training programme that enables young people to progress into jobs and further education, and a training programme to develop workers and organisations to deliver our methodology.

We now have a national network of local organisations across the UK and Ireland (with our own offices in London, Manchester and Belfast) to ensure we always adopt a 'bottom up' approach and deliver projects that are appropriate to the local context.

We also work in the International Sport for Development arena and have delivered training for agencies such as UK Sport, Laureus and the British Council in places such as Pakistan, Indonesia, India, USA, Estonia, South Africa and the Gambia.

What has been the proudest recent moment for you & the team?
Its always difficult to define 'the proudest moment' as it comes in many forms - organizationally I think it is probably when our methodology was recognised as a leader in the field of sport for development (and indeed in community development) and published as a recognised training qualification by Skills Active - the Government body overseeing our sectors. Our approach can now be taught in colleges and is a recognised development pathway for coaches in any sport or community.

For the team, and personally I think we are probably proudest when the young people on our programmes succeed - when you see a young person (or group of young people) achieve something (be it delivering a volunteer project, getting a qualification, getting a job) and realising what they have achieved it pretty much validates everything we do.

What would you like to be doing more of?
This is difficult to answer - as it would probably be 'everything'.

If we focus on where there are gaps in our programme, it would have to be the transition for young people into work. Most of the issues we see young people facing within the communities in which we work have one root cause - poverty. And of course one sure way to address that is to give people work and the ability to earn an income.

We can deliver the skills, attitudes, qualifications to young people - but we need more employers to look beyond the stereotypes and take a chance on supporting these young people into the workplace. That can take the form of mentoring, work placements, work experience in the first instance - through to opportunities for work and apprenticeships in the long term. We cannot ask employers to offer jobs to the wrong candidates of course, but employers have an important role to play in helping young people over that last hurdle.

So I would say that is what we need to do more of - engage employers to help shape that stage of our process.

What has the Asda Foundation done to support ACN?
The Asda Foundation is one of our key strategic partners and have supported us on a number of levels. We have worked closely with the national team and trustees to shape the programme as a whole, the CLC's have supported us extensively in delivering projects and have been a revelation in terms of their skills and commitment to the work, and of course there is the obvious answer - funding.

We have now delivered pilot schemes in London and Belfast and have now agreed a national extension across Northern Ireland, England and Wales that will involve accredited training for CLC's, community youth and sports projects, employability and enterprise training, employment based workshops and mentoring and opportunities to engage with Asda and other employers. we are also engaging two universities (in Northern Ireland and England / Wales) to provide research and recommendations on how employers and companies can support social change.

Critically we see Asda Foundation as an active strategic partnership that goes beyond the typical sponsorship funder route - they are working with us to shape the wider agenda and align with other strategic partners including government.

What advice would you give to other not for profits seeking support from Asda?
Asda Foundation staff have a very strong grasp on the charitable sector, and are clear on what they will fund, how it works, and how you evidence success. I would advise that any projects seeking funding need to align with Asda Foundation priorities, address a very clear and identified need, have a very clear methodology to deliver and be able to evidence success. And prepared for questions!

What's the next big event we should be putting in our diaries?
We have just consulted with Asda Community Life Champions (CLC’s) in London on how we can support them in engaging and working with young people, and will be starting an accredited training programme with interested London colleagues from mid-November. We will be carrying out the same processes with colleagues in Northern Ireland later that same month, and we are really looking forward to building a 'team' ethos between our staff and Asda CLC's to make a greater impact in the communities in which we work.

Do follow Gary on Twitter @KickStartGS and Active Communities Network @ActiveCN

Michael Kuku

Michael Kuku, 17, is a volunteer with Active Communities Network. He first engaged with ACN / Adsa Foundation project at the outset when he attended a football coaching session on the Aylesbury estate in South London. Michael has had a difficult upbringing and the age of 12 was sent to Nigeria, where family originates from, as he had become caught up in the wrong crowd and his behaviour was suffering. On returning to the UK at 14 Michael started to train and volunteer with ACN, helping to set up, run sessions and referee matches.

Michael’s positive engagement in sport has not only had an effect on him but has also influenced his peers by encouraging them to become involved in sports sessions and move away from negative activities. His determination and commitment to helping out in sessions has had a positive effect on the younger people he coaches who now look to him as a role model.

Michael completed work experience with Active Communities Network as part of this programme. He is now back on track at school, his confidence is increasing and he feels that the sky is the limit. Michael parents feel that he is finally growing up and that he’s becoming a positive leader in the community. His short term goal is to become more involved in volunteering and to keep attending accredited and non-accredited courses to improve his CV. He feels that these qualifications will help him stand out from his peers when entering the working world.

During the summer of 2015, Michael took the VRQ in Using Sport to Tackle Youth Crime, participated in an Equality and Diversity Workshop and completed an Introduction to Youth Work qualification. The programme has already helped him to gain a place at college studying Sports Science. His next goal is to gain as many GCSEs as possible and hopefully become an ambassador for ACN.

Growing up in such a difficult part of London, Michael is a shining example of how sport can help to have a positive impact on himself and the wider community. The dedication that he has shown through his journey with CAN and the Asda Foundation is to be applauded and we look forward to seeing his progress in the future.

This progress has already been highlighted at the London Children of Courage Awards where he won the trophy for Sporting Achievement.

Noeleen McMahon

Asda Community Life Champion, Westwood, West Belfast

Noeleen lives in West Belfast she is a young woman with three teenage children. Her employment with Asda began 10 years ago, 8 of which she worked as a check out operator and has been working as a Community Life Champion for the last 2 years.

As a Community Life Champion for Asda she became involved with Active Communities Network and has since been responsible for organising and supporting events for the Asda Foundation in partnership with ACN. As part of this partnership Noeleen has attended and participated in activities such as young men’s football weekly sessions in Whiterock Leisure Centre, took part in a healthy eating programme for young women, she has worked as part of a female empowerment group in West Belfast which had a full days event recently that was supported by Sport NI. Noeleen has developed programmes that involved using Asda Westwood store and has also developed sports events in local schools and community fun days in other locations.

Noeleen participated in a Youth Mentoring Training programme which was run by ACN staff and successfully completed this. Noeleen said “I came out of this training feeling very motivated and having a positive outlook on dealing with the public in my work and my teenage children on a day to day basis. As I took so much out of this programme I had mentioned to Jim and Mark about delivering this to all CLC’s in Asda stores across Northern Ireland.” As a result of this conversation Noeleen in partnership with ACN developed a Youth Mentoring training programme that she delivered to the other 17 CLC’S.

Noeleen had stated that she had very little confidence and would have been quite nervous speaking even at a staff meeting but had never envisaged herself delivering training to colleagues and actually wanting to do it herself! She said that through her partnership with ACN she has built up her confidence and this has also enhanced her personal development. Noeleen said “I have gained so much from the facilitating that I would love to do more in the future”.

Noeleen said ‘I think working with ACN has been amazing. First of all we meet every week with the team in ACN and both I and a colleague from our North Belfast Asda store know what we are going to be doing each week and plan ahead for this. All the courses that they bring you on are really beneficial for when you go out into the community, like the mentoring courses. The skills that you learn with them for me personally have meant I have a lot more confidence talking to people and talking in a small group. The team that we work with are really amazing, we couldn’t ask for a better team they’re dead helpful, and the links that they have are really helpful for us too. We did a small fundraiser for Children in Need and ACN was able to set us up with volunteers to do face painting for a fundraiser free of charge.’