Cricket without Boundaries: Cricket for social change with Lee Booth

Lee Booth is a cricket aficionado, a sports coach, development specialist and the head of delivery at Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB), a development organisation that uses cricket as a tool to assist communities.

With access to countries where cricket isn’t well known, CWB has worked on ending FGM, developing gender equality and more.

We chatted to Lee about his role on the frontline in making all of this happen.

Lee Booth with his team members

Zushan Hashmi: Tell me a little bit about yourself outside of Cricket without Boundaries (CWB)?

Lee Booth: Outside of CWB most of my life is taken up with sport - coaching and playing cricket or playing hockey or bowls. I also do some website development and maintenance, which helps to pay the bills!

How did you get involved with cricket?

Cricket is in my blood - there’s a long line of Booths who have turned out for my village cricket club, and with 2 older brothers who also love cricket, I was pretty much born with a ball in my hand.

And what about your involvement with CWB?

While on holiday in Malta I wanted to see if there was any cricket to watch locally - I’m not much of a beach person - and spotted CWB being promoted on the Malta Cricket website. I got in touch and 9 weeks later I was stepping off the plane in Rwanda.

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What is your role in the organisation?

I’m the head of delivery - which basically means I look after all the practical cricket aspects of CWB’s work. That runs from things like planning and designing new activities and training materials through to hands-on delivery of sessions and coach education, as well as helping to shape the organisation’s strategy - where we work and the issues we address through cricket.

Lee Booth with a little kid

What does CWB do?

Cricket Without Boundaries uses the sport of cricket to bring people together to learn and enjoy the game while also using the sport as a tool to tackle health and social issues relevant to the local community.

We look at things like HIV education, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and refugee integration.

What have been some of your personal challenges at CWB?

Sometimes when I have been in several countries back to back for weeks at a time it can get quite tiring, but the energy of the kids always helps me to keep my head above water.

Also as a small, volunteer-led organisation, we will always have things we want to do that we just can’t do because of those limited resources - but on the other hand, that give-it-a-go spirit of our volunteers, the CWB Family, is something really special and that I wouldn’t want to change any time soon!

And personal milestones?

This October marks 10 years with CWB for me - the changes I have seen in terms of cricket development, as well as awareness of the health and social issues we look to emphasise, has been remarkable and something I am really quite proud of.

Group of kids raising their hands in joy

One of your goals is to ‘Link the game to messages and action on health and social issues’, could you expand a bit on this and elaborate on how you go about achieving this goal?

We use an approach we call integrated learning - basically, we try to integrate the messages throughout the session in a variety of different ways.

We use key slogans and link them to the game of cricket - for example in the “ABCT” message of HIV prevention, C stands for a condom - so we will talk about the bat being like you condom, you use it to protect your body.

Then we have flashcards with key facts that we use in games - to help players identify facts and myths - and whiteboards where players might write down targets to aim for, like “how can we achieve gender equality”.

These all help start discussions in and around the session, while still staying active and having fun!

What is the difference between ‘coach[ing] children and train[ing] adults’?

The big difference is with children, you’re just trying to get the cricket knowledge and health and social message across.

When you’re training adults as coaches, you’re trying to equip them with the “how to coach” skills to do that, while also making sure they’re comfortable with the cricket and health message content. So it is an extra layer that you need to build in.

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But the main similarity is that you want to make sure its an enjoyable experience - so players come back for future sessions, and so adults are inspired to take that learning and go apply it in their coaching and teaching.

How does the work that CWB does differ between countries?

Every country has its own health or social issues that are important to their communities.

So, really the main difference is tailoring the health and social focus on a country by country basis, led by our in-country partners.

We also fine-tune our delivery in each country to match up to the cricket development needs of that country. If our partners have a vision for how they want to grow cricket, we try to support that too.

Lee Booth with young people as part of the Cricket without Boundaries development team
Lee Booth with young people as part of the Cricket without Boundaries development team

I’m particularly interested in hearing more about your work in Jordan, and a large number of Palestinian refugees in the country?

We are really lucky to have an amazing partner in the Right to Play in Jordan. They deliver sport to bring communities together across Jordan, including in refugee communities.

We’ve been upskilling their workforce to add cricket to the activities they offer. They really cricket because of its adaptability - you can scale it up from a full game down to small exercises like catching - and its emphasis on inclusion and respect.

We’re looking forward to continuing to develop this work for that very reason - we think cricket lends itself to that mission really well.

How do you utilise cricket to support you on your key themes (ending FGM, gender equality, HIV/Aids and #WithRefugees)?

I mentioned earlier about how we link the themes into our sessions, and that is really the main part of it, but also just by using this slightly unusual approach we also attract quite a lot of interest from local media etc, which can also help raise the profile of the issue both locally and globally.

Why were these the particular themes the organisation opted for?

We started out focusing on HIV because CWB was born out of coaching cricket in sub-Saharan Africa and began its work around the peak of the HIV epidemic.

The founders could see the opportunity for cricket to make even just a small contribution to tackling the virus. The FGM work then stemmed out of our connection to the Masaai Cricket Warriors in Kenya, who we help on their mission to end FGM with expertise on how to use cricket for change. Gender equality developed as a theme as we recognised that it is something that drives a lot of other issues in the world, including sexual health and FGM.

Finally, the refugees’ work has its early roots in our experiences in Northern Uganda, where there are many refugees from South Sudan - when we were approached with the opportunity to go beyond Africa with refugee work we recognised that this was something we could take across the globe.

This is even more interesting, considering most of the countries you focus on, aren’t exactly ‘cricket-loving nations’?

We like to think that’s a bit of our “secret sauce” that makes CWB work! Because no-one has any expectations about what cricket is or who it is for there are no expectations that, for example, “oh cricket is a boys sport” or “you’re only playing cricket if you’re wearing whites and playing with a hardball”.

It just takes those barriers away, so we can get everyone playing, in whatever space or place is available, having fun and working together.

Plus, it also means we have really good relationships with our cricket partners in-country because by working together we can make a real difference to things like the numbers of young people playing the sport.

lee booth with a woman holding a trophy as part of the development projects
Lee Booth presents a trophy to one of the developing teams, as a part of the work of Cricket Without Boundaries

Tell me a little bit about your Ambassadors, and what their role entails?

 Our Ambassadors are basically community cricket coaches - with a twist! They coach cricket-with-a-message year-round in their local community, and many of them also help support and develop other coaches in the region.

They also help plan and co-ordinate all of our projects, because they’ve got great relationships with the local schools and other organisations.

Are you supported by or working with any cricket boards, and what is this engagement like?

At the national level, we work with the Cricket Associations in Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and will soon be starting to work with Malawi.

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As I’ve mentioned, this relationship is a real two-way street. We try to help upskill coaches in their system and grow the game of cricket, we’ve run bespoke Level-2 style coaching courses in the past for example, while they help us to achieve the social development mission of the charity by ensuring enduring and sustainable relationships with the targeted regions via the Ambassadors or local Cricket Development Officers.

In the UK we are really lucky to have worked with a few County Boards and Foundations over the years - at the moment, for example, we are working with Durham CCCF to deliver activity in Durham around gender equality but also facilitating Durham’s support of cricket in Uganda; they have secured funding for 3 community cricket hubs in Uganda, and provide expertise and experience to help make these work, while also learning lessons from their colleagues in Uganda.

Fundraising, I assume, makes up a key aspect of gaining capital to invest in CWB’s activities, what has that been like for the organisation?

We have traditionally relied on our volunteers fundraising for projects, as well as generally smaller fundraising events organised by schools and cricket clubs.

We do occasionally manage bigger fundraising events, but this is a bit of a skills gap amongst our volunteers - so if anyone reading this is inspired by CWB’s work and has fundraising experience they’d like to share we’d love to hear from them!

More recently we have been successful in securing grants for specific projects - developing new resources, and getting a new Ambassador appointed - and that has been great, so we’re planning on building on that (once things are a little calmer after the COVID-19 situation!)

Lee Booth mentoring young players with his team for development (Cricket Without Boundaries)
The Cricket Without Boundaries team chats to some young people about the sport to further development

What have been some of the key successes or achievements of CWB?

Speaking purely in numbers, we have coached over 400 thousand young people over our 15 years of operation and trained a further 4,000 adults.

From a cricket perspective, the growth of the game in partner countries has been pretty remarkable and CWB has certainly had a role in that, particularly in getting more women and girls playing and reaching young people in the rural regions.

Finally, from the health and social messages perspective, I think it’s just how closely the messages are associated with cricket and CWB’s work. I

n Kenya, one of our Ambassadors is nicknamed “Baba ABC” because he is so well known for spreading the ABC prevention message (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condom Use) through his cricket sessions.

What is CWB doing as an organisation during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Obviously, as an organisation that is based on face-to-face interaction, this is a pretty strange time for us. All our Ambassadors are in some form of lockdown, and all the schools they normally coach are closed.

So we are trying to use the time proactively to support their development via mobile support and e-learning, looking at what they and the Cricket Associations have identified as important to work on, and just generally being there for each other in what is a very trying period.

We have developed a few games that are related to COVID-19 but of course as no one can coach these can’t reach as many people as we’d like!

What is the long-term vision for CWB?

To continue to serve communities by using the unique characteristics of cricket to bring people together and tackle the social and health issues that are important to them, and take up opportunities that will allow us to do that.

If a National Cricket Association or other organisation wants to use cricket in that way, we will be ready to support that and help them to make that happen.

Any other thoughts or comments?

Just to say thank you for inviting me to speak to you - if your readers are interested in learning more, or even getting involved, they should check out our website and social media accounts. We’d love to hear from you!

To learn more about the development work being done by Cricket Without Boundaries, visit Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
You can get in touch with Lee Booth on LinkedIn.
For more Cricket content, visit Sportageous.
Saqib Tanveer assisted in the curation of this article. You can follow him here on LinkedIn.

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