Children showed off their sporting skills as ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair saw first-hand how his charity is changing lives in the North East.
To mark the sixth birthday of the Tony Blair Sports Foundation the former Labour leader joined youngsters, some of whom are being trained up as the next generation of coaches, at the Newcastle Cricket Centre in Gosforth and Walker Technology College.
“These are tough times but we can’t give up on making sure that more kids enjoy all the benefits that sport can bring,” Mr Blair said.
“I am delighted to say that, since 2007, our Foundation has recruited, trained and placed over 3,500 new coaches in schools and clubs, right across the North East.
“Being involved in sport, feeling part of something, and showing commitment can completely change a child’s life. It can help improve school performance, and can keep young people on the straight and narrow.
“And, with our region having some of the highest rates of obesity amongst adults and children in England, we have to give our young people the chance to transform their futures by boosting their access to sport.”
During the visit Mr Blair met some of the 593 “young leaders” and 121 cricket coaches who have gained qualifications with the help of the charity.
“The Olympic legacy is not just about elite athletes, it’s about grass roots sport and inspiring people,” the former Sedgefield MP, who revealed he was once captain of his school’s under 13 cricket team, said.
“Sport provides skills and competitive instincts that will serve young people well throughout their lives.”
Jeanette Pickard, chief executive of the Tony Blair Sports Foundation, called on the people of the North East to make the most of the foundation’s help.
She said: “Today, we’re calling on people across the North East to get in touch with the Foundation and find out how they can be part of it.
“Anyone who loves sport and wants to see others develop and succeed can become a coach.
“Any sports club or school that doesn’t have enough qualified coaches should get in touch with the Sports Foundation to find out how we can help you boost access to sport for young people.”
Among those who have already benefited from the charity’s help is 14-year-old James Doneathy, from Stocksfield, Northumberland.
“Doing all these qualifications have given us the chance to go back to our club and play and help others come into the sport,” the Stocksfield Cricket Club member, who dreams of one day playing first class cricket for Durham, said.
“I love seeing people coming to the club and having fun and there’s lots of young people coming through.
“And I’d like to think that, even coming from a humble background, because if this I’m getting the opportunity to progress to a higher level myself.”
For more information about the fund and the help it offers visit www.tonyblairsportsfoundation.org