World Cup winner Ebony Rainford-Brent 'would have bitten somebody's hand off' to be part of ACE, the charity she founded to increase black participation in cricket.
The rapidly-expanding organisation launched out of Surrey County Cricket Club in January 2020 and has now been nominated for a prestigious London Sport Award, held in association with the City of London Corporation.
Lambeth-born Rainford-Brent's own introduction to the game came through a community programme when, aged 10, she joined a session run by the London Community Cricket Association. Seven years later, she became the first black woman to play for England.
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"If ACE was around when I was growing up, I think it would have been a game-changer for me personally," reflected the 37-year-old.
"As a player that walked through the game and played at the highest level, which I have done, I often suffered with issues around confidence, feeling like the only one, dealing with challenges around biases, etc.
"I think it would have made such an impact on me giving me that sense of identity and the support network that I needed."
ACE is a finalist for The Enhancing the Workforce Award, in association with Chipotle, at the London Sport Awards, which recognise, celebrate, and shine a light on the stories of the unsung community heroes whose outstanding work across the capital helps Londoners of all ages and backgrounds to be physically active.
Over the last five years, the annual London Sport Awards, in association with the City of London Corporation, has grown to become the biggest celebration of grassroots and community physical activity and sport in the city.
The charity was founded in response to what the organisation says is a 75 per cent decline in Black British professional players and an alarming recreational participation rate of less than 1 per cent.
And while cricket sessions are the core component of ACE's offering in London, Birmingham and - as of September - Bristol, Rainford-Brent and her team are eager to showcase the wide variety of career paths open to participants both on and off the pitch, from coaching to media.
"I really hope this programme will not only be national and have academies around the game, but I think more importantly has that change in culture within the whole of cricket," explained Rainford-Brent, now a regular TV pundit who also serves as director of women's cricket at Surrey.
"That goes from [our] elite coaches [who] we want to see progress into the system, young kids who chase their dream and become professional cricketers, but also many who may not make it and stay in the game as administrators.
"[Or] whether they want to fulfil their dreams becoming a sports broadcaster, there's so many avenues within the game that we'd love to inspire that deeper love for everybody who touches the ACE programme to feel like they're part of the game, and actually the game is richer for having more people come through."
Organisers are busy brainstorming other ways to connect cricketers with off-pitch opportunities, from workshops to work experience.
They are also active in reaching out to young athletes who might have become disillusioned with the game, perhaps after bad experiences at another club-with the sport serving as a launchpad for lasting personal transformation.
Rainford-Brent added: "I think ACE gives them a place where they feel they can be themselves.
"Some of the work is cricket, yes, but a lot of it is actually mentoring and supporting young people through difficult, challenging scenarios, through building confidence and identity that they belong."
The London Sport Awards, in association with the City of London Corporation, shines a spotlight on the unsung community heroes helping Londoners of all backgrounds to enjoy the benefits of physical activity and sport. Find out more about the Awards and how London Sport aims to make London the most physically active city in the world at www.londonsport.org #MakeYourMark
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