Dame Kelly Holmes Trust rolls out project to help young people gain work and life skills
On Saturday 28 August 2004 Kelly Holmes made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic gold in both the 800m and 1500m.
Over a decade on, Holmes, now a Dame, is seven years down the track of trying to change the future.
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust links young people aged 16 to 25 years old, who are not in employment or education and are from troubled backgrounds, with an elite athlete whose job it is to inspire them. The idea is to show how hard work and dedication can pay off.
The scheme has proved a big success in England, where over 120 athletes worked with over 70,000 young people last year. Now, Holmes is bringing the flagship Get on Track programme to Scotland.
Athletes from Olympic sprinter Abi Oyepitan to European and Commonwealth gold medallist Adam Whitehead have acted as mentors to individual young people, building up relationships with them and giving them tips to improve their social skills, build their confidence and develop their practical skills such as CV writing and job applications.
By the end of the course, an impressive 70% of participants have moved onto a job, education or training opportunity.
In Scotland, Edinburgh resident, Olympian and Commonwealth Games judo champion Sarah Clark is the first athlete to sign up. She has agreed to act as a mentor and work with 20 young people nominated by youth and community groups.
Speaking at the roll out of the project in Scotland at Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, Holmes said she was delighted to be able to make a difference in the capital.
“The impact of an athlete, like Olympian Sarah Clark, can be so inspiring. My charity’s athletes use their unique skills to help young people make positive changes in their lives,” she said.
“I’m delighted we’re able to make a difference in Edinburgh.”
Clark, who won gold at Glasgow 2014, added: “I was honoured to be asked to be a mentor in the new project kicking off in Edinburgh.
Sport as a whole for me is a parallel of life. It is about determination, commitment, focus and if you want to be successful in life you have got to have the same thing really
“To succeed in sports, you need a wide range of life skills such as self-esteem, confidence, team work and the ability to pick yourself up when you fall.
“By working with the young people involved in the project, I hope to instil these skills in them and help them reach their individual goals.”
Holmes may not be the first celebrity athlete to launch her own charity, but it is clear she is genuinely interested and involved in its work. This is no public relations campaign, to her it is personal.
Having grown up in Kent in a family without a lot of money and opportunity and struggling at school, she believes that it was her own sporting prowess, that helped keep her on the right track.
“I’m a council [scheme] kid. I could have gone completely in a different direction as I didn’t come out with any educational qualifications whatsoever and I could have gone right off the rails.”
For Holmes though, it wasn’t a sports star that encourage her the belief in herself but old PE teacher Debbie Page. Page convinced her she could actually be good at something, and that she had a talent in athletics.
“When I came back from Athens (the Olympic host city in 2004) she was the first person I called to say thank you,” Kelly continued.
“That’s the connection you get and some of these young people are going to get that connection with an athlete.”
“You don’t realise how much you are empowering someone just by helping them through difficult times or just making them see there is something else more than where they’ve been.”
Officially the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust launched in 2008, however charity work was already a big part of Kelly’s life prior to its inauguration.
One of her reasons for starting the trust was because she realised she was already the patron of 15 youth charities and thought why not do something on her own.
Young people really look up to elite athletes and Holmes is convinced they can make a difference.
“Sport as a whole for me is a parallel of life,” she said.
“It is about determination, commitment, focus and if you want to be successful in life you have got to have the same thing really.”
The Dame Kelly Holmes Trust is launching Get on Track in Scotland thanks to £175,000 funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery.
It is scheduled to be fully up and running by the summer.