When Duncan Fearnley introduced Mark Nicholas to me, twelve years ago now; we had the vision of creating Chance to Shine. The vision was to regenerate cricket in state schools, which was in a pretty bad way. We had very clear objectives and we knew what we wanted to achieve.
We set out to have pilot programs in 2005, and then a 10 year programme, which will end next year, and we’re already planning the sequel to that. The objective at the outset was to do something that many thought was impossible: to send two million children through Chance to Shine to play competitive cricket in state schools, and to do it by raising £50million. We have already, ahead of schedule, taken more than two million children through Chance to Shine, and we’re almost there on raising the £50million, and with your help I’m confident that we will.
What we did not anticipate at the outset of the campaign, and didn’t really imagine, was that of the two million children going through the programme, one million – more now – would be girls. That was something that really, literally, bowled us over. We saw the excitement and passion from girls in schools who wanted to have the chance to play cricket and demonstrate that they could do it. We didn’t set out to build a national Test team or to find cricketers who would represent England, although I’m quite confident that one day, and maybe not so far away now, a Chance to Shine girl will walk down the steps of the Pavilion at Lord’s to represent England. What we set out to do was to show that cricket was good for education.
We had three main objectives, and I think the contribution of the girls to this programme illustrates these objectives best. The first was to show that competitive team sports are a crucial part of education; it’s a way of learning how to win, but just as importantly, how to lose. How to play in a team where you have to support the team, not by being an individual, but by putting in the effort when the moment requires it. You can’t hide behind the team, but you contribute and you’re part of the team. To be as competitive as possible on the field and as friendly as possible off it. I can’t think of a better preparation for the life of work than the experience of competitive team sports. One of the things that’s come out of the programme has been that so many of the girls in it have said to us that they have learnt things which have helped them in their lives, which they didn’t get from just studying the national curriculum.
The second objective we had was to give children, girls as well as boys, the chance to discover that they had particular talents and skills. It takes all sorts to make a team and to make a country, but it’s very important to have the chance to find out what sort of person you are. We have many stories from boys and girls across the country, who said ‘I discovered that I could do something in a cricket match, spinning a ball, or batting or fielding, and that gave me the confidence to realise that I could do something, maybe I wasn’t as good at batting as somebody else, but I could do something they couldn’t do; and that’s given me the confidence to take part in the wider school as a whole’. One girl in our programme said, ‘When I learned I could play cricket, and I knew I could do it, it gave me the confidence to believe that I could learn French and do Maths’. This is a key part of the contribution of Chance to Shine, and it’s why Head teachers across the country have been so supportive of the programme.
The final objective; and perhaps, as far as girls are concerned, the most important, was to raise aspirations. I have never forgotten an experience, when I was teaching at the University of Birmingham and one afternoon took the bus into the city centre. As the bus was going along, two girls from the high school got in and sat behind me, and one said to the other “Isn’t it wonderful that the teacher said ‘you could apply to Oxford, and you should do it’”, and the other girl paused, and just said ‘But people like us don’t go to Oxford and Cambridge’. Now, it’s not about Oxford and Cambridge, it’s about having aspirations to achieve anything in life. If you start off with your aspirations limited by the world in which you grow up, you will never get the chance to find out what you can do. We’ve seen this with Charlotte Edwards and the other members of the England women’s team who go out to schools. One example was that one little girl said to Charlotte ‘Why have you come to my school?’ and she replied, ‘Because one day, maybe you could play for England!’ Once people think, ‘Why can’t I aim for the top?’, only then do people discover what they’re capable of achieving. It’s very, very important. It’s an English disease that we limit people’s aspirations very early, and it’s vital to find ways, in every walk of life, to raise aspirations.
Those are the three objectives, and they’ve been achieved marvelously. I’m absolutely delighted that we’ve been able to get to the point where Chance of Shine is demonstrating that we can help girls achieve their dreams. I want to thank particularly the team at Chance to Shine, led by the inspirational Wasim Khan, who’s done a phenomenal job, along with the team working with him, to make Chance to Shine a success. You don’t run a programme which puts two million children, one million girls, through without having a first-rate organisation. We’ve been supported by the ECB (English Cricket Board), who’ve given us access to all the county board and clubs around the country, from which we draw the coaches that we send in to the schools. It’s a project based on thinking together: a club, and half a dozen schools in the vicinity, as a cluster. It works, it’s a model we set out in the beginning, and it’s been immensely successful. I’d also like to thank the ECB; David Collier (chief executive), and also Clare Connor, who directs the women’s cricket for the ECB, and Charlotte Edwards, who have all done an enormous amount to demonstrate why this can work. The women’s team in particular, when they’re not playing for England, they’re in the schools helping Chance to Shine.
This is a programme that’s there to help advance the education of girls, not just find cricketers. So let me thank all of you who’ve contributed to that, because not merely have you helped girls realise their dreams; not just to play cricket, but to discover other things in life that they may want to do, and to have the confidence to do them; you’ve helped me achieve my dream, which we had 12 years ago, when Mark and I embarked on this. Many people doubted that we could get this running in Britain which would put two million children through a sports initiative in school, but we’ve done it. Now it’s onwards and upwards to better things.