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For many, the district of Byker is best known for 90s TV nostalgia and as the launching pad for Ant and Dec. Now, however, it may be the genesis of cricket's next superstar.
Byker Primary School can be found nestled inside the confines of Newcastle's famous Byker Wall, a mile-and-a-half long block of housing, built in the 70s to replace Victorian terraces no longer fit for habitation. With over 77 per cent of Byker's pupils eligible to receive free school meals (teachers will tell you the figure is closer to 100 per cent in reality), the children here tended to find sporting opportunities hard to come by. Then cricket came to town.
In March this year, Northumberland Cricket Board's Calum Bickerton, visited the school to begin delivering the Chance to Shine programme. Within each session, he introduced the fundamental skills of cricket to the pupils, aiming to instil confidence, resilience and ultimately, a love of the game. For most of the children involved, this was their first experience of cricket.
"There was a little bit of apprehension," says Calum "but they had a go and they realised there would be no judgement. They really like the competitive side of games and they've improved massively, their hitting, throwing, catching skills, everything's improved."
The pupils at Byker are among six million children who have taken part in a Chance to Shine programme since their inception in 2005. The charity work in partnership with county cricket boards to send specialist coaches into state primary schools, once a week for six weeks. Along with helping pupils develop a positive relationship with the sport, their coaches support teachers to deliver cricket themselves - helping to create a long-lasting culture of cricket within every school.
This year, Chance to Shine have placed a focus on delivering in more schools where government data shows the majority of pupils face economic challenges. James Morgan, who manages delivery of Chance to Shine in Northumberland recognises the importance of this specific funding. "Over 90 per cent of our people live in just under 10 per cent of our geographical area, and within that area, there aren't very many cricket clubs," he says. "We realised that actually if we're going to serve our county properly, we need to take cricket into those areas."
Recent independent research by Canterbury Christchurch University found that such delivery had a marked impact on pupils at these schools, with two-thirds reporting that they wished to continue playing cricket after their coach had left the school. "I like that you get to enjoy being around your friends and experience how it is with different people," says 10 year-old Kendra. "The skills that you can learn are how to hold the bat properly. How to catch [the ball] and throw it. You need to communicate a lot with your team because when the ball hits the bat, your team need to work together to get the ball back to where it's meant to."
Calum played a key role in creating a culture of cricket at the school and is committed to ensuring that children can continue to play within their local community. This has included the set up of five Chance to Shine street cricket projects across the city; free, weekly clubs which takes the sport to the most economically deprived areas of the country. Byker itself hosts a project and pupils are encouraged to attend. Running year-round and with all equipment provided, the projects remove key financial and geographical barriers. Elsewhere in the county, Northumberland help to build relationships between schools and cricket clubs to encourage children to attend them as well as national programmes such as All Stars and Dyanmos.
"Cricket here looks very, very different to what it might look like in a very affluent rural area, but that's absolutely fine," says James, "the benefits from it are just as big, if not greater. It's giving children an opportunity to do something that, without Chance to Shine cricket sessions, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to do. The impact that the sessions existence had on the children can't be underestimated."
Chance to Shine have ambitions to take cricket to more communities than ever before, but they need your help. Until the end of September 2023, England and Wales Cricket Board will double all donations to the charity – meaning your money will go twice as far. To help a child pick up a bat and ball today, visit Chance to Shine's website.