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BBC sport hands over to homeless

Young hostel residents get chance to interview sports stars as a first step on road back to work. Justina Hart reports

As Manchester United and Arsenal battle it out in the premiership, homeless young people are finding out what it is like to break the latest news on the title race to the nation.

Eighteen months ago the BBC approached the UK's leading youth homeless charity, the Foyer Federation. (Foyers are hostels where young people get advice on careers and training as well as accommodation). The idea was to give the young people the confidence to re-enter full-time education by teaching them the basics of sports reporting "Doing something related to sport clicked with us both, mainly because the BBC sports team expressed enthusiasm," explains Andrew Page, head of fundraising and business partnerships for the Foyer Federation.

The federation uses "stealth" training, including courses in sports and music to "hook people in". The BBC scheme, Tackling Skills, is a perfect example of this approach and has won the support of top sports clubs .

For its part, the BBC benefits from an unusual staff development programme.

Kieron Tilley, partnership manager of the BBC's skillXchange department, which came up with the scheme says: "Traditionally we pulled courses off-the-shelf to address gaps such as project management or presentation skills." But this course has also been valuable training. "I've asked sports journalists what they've learnt from mentoring Foyer residents and they've said, 'how to listen'."

A successful pilot involving six residents at west London foyers was run at London Wasps Rugby Club early this year. None of the students had been to a live match. Five finished the course, a higher proportion than the 50 per cent who usually complete Foyer training courses. Three of these went on to do media studies at college.

BBC mentors commit an hour a week for five weeks. Clare Choak, 28, a producer on the Five Live website was a mentor on the pilot. She was then seconded to the Foyer Federation to organise the national Tackling Skills programme. The federation hopes to fund her role full-time.

Students learn interviewing techniques and how to use digital recording kit. They attend matches and interview players. They also visit studios to find out how professional journalists cover matches. "It's my job to find out what motivates the students and to make the experience as much fun as possible," says Ms Choak.

A football fan since she was eight, she has no trouble relating to the young people. "I find it easy to get on with them," she says. "Most are passionate about the game and talking about football is like talking about EastEnders - you've immediately bridged the gap."

Students were surprised, she says when a young, female journalist turned up in a tracksuit. "We're also demystifying the stuffy image of the Beeb. If I can work for the BBC, anyone can."

Ayen Addi, 24, a resident at Jupiter House foyer in Hayes, Middlesex, found the course so inspiring that she is now working as a volunteer helping Ms Choak to prepare course guides for students who finish Tackling Skills.

Ayen met some big names including Lawrence Dallaglio and Kenny Logan and wrote an article about her experiences for the Big Issue.

"The course was about improving our literacy skills and giving us confidence," she says.

Ayen is also working as a volunteer two days a week at a local Citizens Advice Bureau training to be an adviser. She starts a journalism course in January. "I don't think you can get into the media just like that, but Tackling Skills gives you the chance to try it out. To me it was the excitement of it, I got to improve myself and put something on my CV."

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