Hackney Royals: 'We've gone past teaching basketball. We're teaching life skills the kids can use'
PUBLISHED: 13:57 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 18:04 17 December 2018
Seeing young people vulnerable to gang violence and postcode wars inspired a Hackney basketball coach to create a place for young people to play ball, keep them off the streets and better themselves for their futures.
As a result, the Hackney Royals were formed, building a safe and supportive environment for children and young adults to flourish.
But as their funding decreases and the financial demands of the sport go up, coach Ashley Fagan-Cooper told the Gazette their basketball refuge may be in jeopardy.
Growing up in Hackney, Ashley spoke of his experiences, and how it motivated him to provide a better place for young people today.
“In terms of sports, life skills and combating gang violence – I’ve come from that sort of area,” he said.
“I could be sitting behind bars, I could be searching for my next pound somewhere, and for all the challenges I went through I saw how hard it was.”
He added: “I’m trying to keep young people off the streets and away from crime, keeping them together and getting them to do something constructive.”
Hackney Royals team member Kelly Linda Carvallo Mendes Pereira, 18, said: “He knows people that were affected by gun violence, and he knows people that were close to him that died and because of that, he really tries to help us.
“I got a place that’s safe for me, which makes me happy.
“I don’t have to be scared thinking what could happen, and there’s not a lot of places like that.”
Since starting the basketball teams, Ashley has taken full advantage of his platform to connect with young people. There are both girls’ and boys’ teams, known as the Kings and Queens.
“It’s not just that we’re teaching basketball,” he said. “We’ve gone far past that.
“We are teaching skills they can use in their lives.
“We’ve got this rule that if you’re not doing well in your school or your GCSEs then you can’t play in the games.
“And when you come to training, you bring your homework and we’ll help you.”
Kelly added: “One day we had to, like, run around the school because most of the team had detention, and he said: ‘Your parents go to work and put a roof over your heads. You have one job – to go to school, to do well.’”
Another Hackney Royals member Ruth Usman, 17, said: “They make us engaged and stuff like that, and that’s what I really enjoy about the club.
“He gives us advice, he gives us opportunities.
“Any time we need help, he’s always there.”
Impressed by the scale of interest by young people and the team’s ability to provide an alternative to violence and anti-social behaviour, Hackney Council has been funding a sports hall for the teams.
Ashley says he was told funding was at risk of being withdrawn in March, and that he was told he should have been charging the young people. However, a town hall spokesperson denied this was the case and told the Gazette the funding would continue.
“What we’re trying to do is for a good cause,” said Ashley. “That’s catering for the young people, making sure they’re doing something constructive – I’ve never seen a reason to charge for that.
“If we weren’t there, what would the young people be doing right now?
“It worries me.”
Kelly added: “Sometimes our parents don’t have the money to give to us, and right now we’re about to start a season and we don’t even have kit. It’s quite sad.”
Ruth added: “We’re going to struggle for money for transport.”
Determined to make it to the tournaments next year, Ashley and the teams will be seeking sponsorship and raising money so they can continue their passion for basketball.
Ruth said: “We know we have potential and we know we can go far as a team and we’re really dedicated – we want this.”
Kelly added: “This is my second home, and now I feel like I can go somewhere in life that I’m not stuck.
“We all love it.”
Despite the name, the Hackney Royals aren’t sitting on a vast fortune.
They need financial help so they can continue training, get new kit, and make it to the competitions they’ve been working towards.
They are looking for people or businesses passionate about giving young people a chance to do something positive in a safe environment.
Coach Ashley Fagan-Cooper said: “People complain about violence in the area. We provide children with a social life that combats gang violence through physical activity.
“People can see what we’re doing with the young people and sort of get involved and help support them.”
He added: “If anyone is interested, then feel free to come down to the session.
“See what they’ve done here, what they’re learning, how they feel, and how basketball has impacted their lives.
“If people are funding them and helping them get the equipment that they need, they can definitely give back to the community.”
If you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.