Flames founder Joshua Wehner talks to James Cracknell about how he’s using basketball to change lives
Sport is about having fun, whether you’re watching or playing, but for Joshua Wehner one sport in particular is about a whole lot more.
“Basketball is a form of escape,” says Joshua, speaking from experience about how it transformed his own life as a teenager. “It is a source of adrenaline for a couple of hours. I want young people to be able to express themselves and use that adrenaline for something positive.”
Joshua is the founder of Flames, a ‘community basketball’ organisation that not only delivers coaching sessions in Waltham Forest but supports young people as they develop and even helps them into employment.
It was Joshua’s love of coaching basketball that led him to set up Flames shortly after the London 2012 Olympic Games. “I started coaching at 15. Even when I was very young, I enjoyed coaching as much as I enjoyed playing.
“Living in an Olympic borough, I was inspired that Waltham Forest was bringing more people into the sport. The name ‘Flames’ comes from a combination of my old team, which was called White Heat, and the flame from the Olympic torch.
“As a kid I lived on Priory Court Estate [in Walthamstow] and the council built a basketball court there, but one day someone unscrewed the backboard and that was it.
“Twenty years later I came back to the estate and started to run a weekly basketball session. It is very important for people from disadvantaged areas to be able to access facilities that are well maintained.
“If sports facilities are under-used or misused, they get taken down or built on. I want young people to have the space to express themselves. They need to have options near where they live – some parents don’t like their kids to leave the estate to go anywhere.”
Flames now runs regular basketball sessions for children and adults at Walthamstow School for Girls, but visits other places in the borough with courts where there is a demand for coaching, such as Thomas Gamuel Park and Bisterne Park. Joshua also helped upgrade an outdoor basketball court in Lloyd Park to provide proper markings and has since run coaching sessions there as part of the annual Walthamstow Garden Party event.
“My main focus is development of players, maintenance of facilities and getting young people into employment. There is nothing better than when players say they can’t make training because they have got a job!”
Through a partnership with Nando’s, Joshua has helped 13 players secure job interviews, with twelve being hired.
“One of the parents came down in tears after her child got a job. To be able to get people into work is one of the biggest achievements.”
As a social enterprise Flames has been supported by a range of local organisations, including youth group Worth Unlimited, Waltham Forest Council, Friends of Lloyd Park and Waltham Forest Arts in Education Network.
Partnering with William Morris Big Local and UnLtd has enabled Joshua to find new opportunities and sources of funding. “They have been a great help and are great supporters of the work I have done. I needed that guidance – there are a lot of different things available but I don’t always know where to search for them. They can point me in the right direction.
“With UnLtd it is about more than funding, it is about building confidence, because it is hard to run a business by yourself – it can be quite intimidating. It is a relief to know I am not alone.”
For Joshua, basketball is not just about competing; not everyone wants to play in the NBA. “If I continue to care about the game, care about young people, and be passionate about that, it inspires them to continue the things they care about.”
Find out more about Flames and how you can get involved: