How it all started

Sport 4 Life UK (S4L) sprang to life in my bedroom of my parents’ house in Birmingham in 2006. I can still vividly remember how it all started. Exploring my post-university career plans (or lack thereof), I thought about my core passions and what I held dear – sport, competition, community, the Midlands and young people. Could I combine these to create something of value, something that creates genuine impact? The idea of S4L was born.

And it seems surreal to write this: S4L is now celebrating its 15 year anniversary!

Not in my wildest dreams did I envisage it would come this far. Over the past 15 years, we’ve gone from 0 staff, £0 in the bank (and quite frankly 0 ideas!), to 22 full-time staff, an annual turnover of c.£1m, winning 10 prestigious regional and national awards, and annually supporting over 1,000 young people towards meaningful and sustained outcomes. And over the course of that 15 years, we’ve invested £7m into the communities in which we serve, and supported 14,000 young people to achieve 8,000 tangible outcomes and towards better futures.

When reminiscing on this incredible journey, it feels there’s almost an infinite source of reflections or thoughts I could share. But what I want to contribute, is an (attempted!) answer to something I’ve been asked a number times recently: What’s the one thing that has made S4L a success? What’s the one thing that’s worked over the 15 years?

This is a very difficult question to answer. And whether it’s been a ‘success’ or not probably isn’t for me to answer – that’s for our board, our staff, our funders, and ultimately – our young people. But if it has been a success, pinpointing just one area over a decade and a half feels like a conspicuously self-defeating project. What is it that has seen us grow year-on-year since inception, achieve transformational impact, regularly meet expectations, support and empower our team, navigate a global pandemic with growth in impact, and come back stronger after many setbacks, challenges, mistakes and failures?

Tom Clarke-Forrest, Founder & CEO. Read Bio.

Perhaps I finally have an answer

If there’s one thing that’s set us apart, that’s acted as a guiding light through the years, and that’s increased our chances of success – it’s our capacity for personal growth. That is, to approach the unknown with a very specific attitude: an openness to learn, to see every day as an opportunity to do more, to know more, and to be more.

This capacity for growth involves admitting our vulnerability, acknowledging our ignorance, embracing failure as a necessary precursor to improvement, and accepting our mistakes. It calls for the humility to lean towards our scepticism and not our credulity, and to adjust our behaviour based on the feedback we receive. For S4L, that’s better understanding our beneficiaries, learning how to serve them better, empowering our staff to be the best they can be, to govern the organisation in a safe and secure way and to actively listen at all times.

My capacity as a leader to grow, evolve and develop has been as critical to our success as meeting funding and impact targets. As I continue to lead, I want to take the risk – all the time – that I don’t know anything like enough. That I haven’t understood enough. That there’s always more to learn. That I’m always energetically operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. It’s the pursuit of the unattainable.

I believe it’s this capacity for growth that has led to 15 years of success. 15 years of ups and downs, but a continual drive forwards. 15 years of challenges and failures, but an unwavering belief in our values, our team, our diversity and our vision. 15 years of service to others. 15 years of stories like Jaden, Zoe, and Ben. 15 years of changing lives.

And I owe a debt of gratitude to the team around me. Without our people, we’re nothing. Without their inspiring adoption of this attitude and value, we wouldn’t have seen the success we have.

Since our humble beginnings 15 years ago, we’ve been on an incredible journey to where we are today. And whilst looking back at our achievements and impact fills me with pride, I’m more excited about the journey ahead.

To celebrate 15 years of Sport 4 Life UK, we’re asking you to R15E UP and help us achieve 150,000 minutes of activity and £15,000 in donations so that we can level the playing field and support more young people in making a positive change in their lives.

What do you need to do?

Choose one of our challenges – it could be cycling, swimming, running, walking or a mixture of activities – and collectively help us achieve 150,000 minutes of activity and £15,000 in donations over 31 days (15th October and 14th November 2021).
You can set your own personal target for the month or join as a group. Simply log your active minutes, get your friends, family and co-workers involved and collect your donations.
To sign up please visit this page