Ignite Sport > News and Blogs > Celebrating 25 years of Ignite

Justin Merritt, CEO of Ignite Training, reflects on 25 years of empowering individuals through sport, education and a collaborative approach to personal development.

This week marks a significant milestone for the team working across Ignite Sport as we celebrate 25 years of education, professional development and sport.

From humble beginnings working in partnership with primary schools across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to support the provision of sport locally, to our countrywide operation today – it’s been quite a journey.

The key to our longevity is in the ‘why?’ Ignite was formed with a mission of supporting coaches and participants and creating opportunity and enjoyment.

My experiences as a child growing up helped me shape friendships and develop confidence, focus and concentration. I benefitted from developing teamwork and leadership from a young age. Sport inspired me, watching the Olympic games, test match cricket, tennis at Wimbledon and of course football, football, football!

When a professional sports career didn’t pan out, I wanted to use the positive experiences I had as a young player to help support others and Ignite was born.

We’ve navigated challenging times economically, a pandemic and adapted our operation to ensure growth both commercially and physically with the support of our outstanding team.

Statistically, fewer than one in five UK businesses reach their 25th anniversary and it goes without saying the support we’ve received from colleagues, consultants, suppliers and of course, customers, past and present has shaped Ignite into the operation it is today – so thank you to everyone we have worked with since our formation.

Sport and its ability to inspire individuals to go beyond what they might consider to be their personal limit has always fascinated me. That doesn’t have to be confined to the elite level of participation, where it’s easy to associate performance with success.

It can apply across multiple spaces, including in primary schools, further education establishments, in offices and right here at our headquarters in Marston, Oxford.

Turning the clocks back to 1999, Ignite started as a one-man-band under the name ‘Premier Sports Group’ where I used my experience as a football player and coach to deliver a series of after school sessions,  sport services in schools and holiday camps.

There was no prior investment, we had one vehicle and equipment was primarily a bag of footballs, cones, skipping ropes and the like – unrecognisable to today’s operation.

A significant milestone came when the School Sport Premium was introduced to support primary schools across the UK in delivering quality physical education sessions which could be provided by external organisations at this time. A big positive impact on physical activity across the country. We were also working on national programmes such as ‘The Schools Football Initiative’ helping provide much needed equipment and coaching resources.

It led to our first full-time recruits joining the team, and the Government’s Funding for Primary School PE and Sports model remains a constant in our operation today. As Ignite matured and we added new members to the team, it was evident to me we required a clear development pathway for our own staff so we could enhance our own delivery and their skills, knowledge and behaviours.

Shortly before our 10th birthday in 2008, we started delivering sports-based apprenticeships for individuals aspiring to a career in sport across five locations in Oxfordshire and Berkshire in partnership with City of Oxford College now Activate Learning.

This was a milestone moment, and ultimately what has shaped Ignite into the business it is today where we’re proud to deliver professional and tailored education to partners across the UK in coaching, teaching, management, leadership, content creation and more.

One of our other key areas of development in the last 25 years is the launch of a further business and the re-brand of our full-time educational academy – Velocity Football – which blends training with education to provide young people with a platform to start careers in sport.

This service has extended to an Alternative Provision (AP) programme for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) where mainstream education was a challenge, but can still reach their true potential by combining learning with sport and support from a beskpoke programme with dedicated support staff, coaches and tutors who know how to bring the best out of each individual.

Increasingly, we’re linking businesses with the thought-processes attached to professional sport where even the smallest of changes can prompt significant gains. Between both operations, we’ve found a great synergy which we strongly believe can help us to address concerning skills gaps across the sectors our tutors operate in.

By collaborating with sports clubs, education establishments and professional organisations with access to knowledgeable people and resources, we can continue to develop apprenticeship programmes which place the learner at the heart of what we do.

We’re fortunate to work in a space where others share our enthusiasm for boosting people’s employability skills through quality and tailored education.

On a final and personal note, leading the growth of Ignite in the last 25 years has been a genuine privilege. I’ve witnessed apprentices and academy alumni go on to achieve great things professionally – which remains an immensely rewarding part of the role as does witnessing a busy pitch, playground, or sports hall where physical activity is taking place with happy, flushed faces.

We’ve broadened our partnership base to encompass the University of Oxford, Oxfordshire Youth, Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City, Bristol Bears, British Cycling and Birmingham City FC plus schools on a local and national scale.

People are at the heart of what we do – and it’s our people who have made Ignite the success story we can tell from the past 25 years.

Justin Merritt, CEO of Ignite.

Contact us:

0300 303 0890


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