Find out more about our social inclusion programme

SHAPE-UP aims to engage young people in the Shepway region in physical activity and social inclusion issues.  Now on its 15th cohort, the project is going from strength to strength, and having a fantastic impact for the young participants it works with.  

Run by the Gillingham FC Community Trust, in partnership with Shepway District Council, Kent Police, and local schools and agencies, SHAPE-UP is designed to break down barriers between groups of young people, decrease the likelihood of young people engaging in anti-social and risk-taking behaviour, and improve family relationships.

The project is delivered in six-week blocks at Folkestone Sports Centre on Saturday mornings, for groups of 10-15 year-olds. Over 150 participants from 21 different primary and secondary schools across Kent have enjoyed taking part since it started. 

Engaging in a variety of fun activities, participants meet other young people and learn about social issues in their communities.  Each cohort get to try a range of sports – from traditional swimming and tennis, to new activities such as Sombo, archery, or New Age Kurling – learning new skills and developing their teamwork.  

Alongside the sports activities, participants eat together each week, and are invited to attend home games at the Gills, an experience many of the families may not otherwise be able to enjoy.  

The groups enjoy a flying visit from a Great British Sombo athlete

Many of the participants referred onto the project come from challenging backgrounds, and are often at risk of anti-social behaviour or school exclusion.  As well as giving them new experiences and developing their fitness, the course helps young people with their social and behavioural skills, in turn supporting them at school, home, and in their communities. 

SHAPE-UP’s impact has been clearly recognised by the schools that the project works with.  “I was thrilled to see that the pupils on the SHAPE-UP project have gone from receiving high numbers of detentions previously to one or none this last term,” reported Emma Cook, Deputy Head Teacher at Christ Church CEP Academy in Folkestone. “What a turnaround! They are happier, more confident and more engaged.”

“All three students in this cohort have benefitted hugely from this opportunity,” added Jemma Harris from Folkestone Academy, where to date 12 11-15 year-olds have taken part in the project. “They have felt privileged to be part of this, and enjoy sharing their experiences with myself and pastoral staff.  Their confidence, self-esteem and leadership capabilities have developed as a result of this programme.”

Each group lays out ground rules for the sessions, taking ownership of their behaviour 

Similar positive stories have also been shared of how the course has affected the participants’ home lives. “Parents have seen a change at home and report a calmer child more open to discussion rather than rage,” reported Coralie Buckle of Morehall Primary School, Folkestone, about one young student who took part in the project.  “[The participant] has had an opportunity to build on his low self-esteem. He’s in more control of his own behaviours – using coping mechanisms to cope better with everyday challenges.

“Prior to the SHAPE-UP project this pupil and his family were at ‘crisis point’.  He was accessing a part-time alternative curriculum off-site.  This academic year, following an increase in timetable, he is now in full-time in his class at Morehall with his peers.”

“Since attending the SHAPE-UP project, the young person I referred has grown in self-confidence, has been supported in trying new experiences and in developing new skills, and has been able to spend some really valuable one to one time with his dad when attending football matches at Gillingham FC,” added Paul Manwaring from the Shepway Youth Hub Early Help and Preventative Services team about another young participant, who has taken steps back into mainstream education after being part of SHAPE-UP.  “Attending the SHAPE-UP project has also enabled this young person to develop his social skills, be more active, think about his diet, and hopefully begin to lose weight.”

Health and fitness play a big part in the sessions 

Fitness is also a big part of the project, and SHAPE-UP supports and educates participants on their health during the six weeks and beyond.  Participants engage in educational workshops, and work on understanding their BMIs, allowing them to see their personal development throughout the programme. They also take away their BMI reports after the six weeks to give them a focus point for the future.  Fun activities like the ‘Smoothie Bike Challenge’ give further insight into the importance of health and nutrition.  

Part of the project’s success also comes from the close relationships developed with the schools, agencies and families connected to the project.  South Kent Development Office Barry Cooper, who leads the project, regularly visits participants’ schools, liaising with staff and parents to help support the participants beyond just the Saturday sessions.  He also provides a weekly blog during each cohort, which gives participants a chance to reflect on and share the sessions they’ve taken part in.  

“The communication I have with schools and agencies has made it smooth – it’s an easy process to get participants who need it involved and get the most out of the course,” explained Barry. “In two years we’ve never missed a session – that consistency, structure, and reliability is paramount for the pupils’ well-being – especially those from difficult backgrounds.  We’re breaking the cycle of them being let down. I enjoy seeing the end result – seeing the pupils develop from week one and mature in a short space of time.”

The success of the project would not be possible without support from key partners.  “Without the support of Tessa and Chris at Folkestone Sports Centre, the project would not be able to work,” Barry continued; “And thanks to the support of funding from Kent County Council (KCC), the project is able to continue having a positive impact for the local Shepway community.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Gills’ SHAPE-UP project, contact Barry Cooper at, or call 01634 623409.

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