BASKETBALL enthusiast Marek Baranovic has earned national recognition for his work in transforming the scene for the sport in Swindon.
The 22-year-old volunteer has been named as the regional winner for the south west in the the Co-operative StreetGames Young Volunteer national awards.
Marek, with his brother Andzej, has helped to form four basketball teams and turn around a negatively-stereotyped area of Swindon.
StreetGames Swindon is part of StreetGames’ network of more than 200 projects which provides sporting opportunities for young people.
The brothers are originally from Lithuania, and they say basketball has helped integrate them into society and find friendship.
When the basketball club started, it was their initial bid for funding and rebuilding the hall at the Youth First Youth Centre, in Walcot, that was accepted by Swindon Council.
There are now four basketball teams playing in the centre, which was previously run down.
Both brothers have volunteered hundreds of hours of their time and have now become part-time employees of Swindon Council’s Leisure Services, where they now run their own sessions.
Marek said: “I came from Lithuania seven years ago, started school which was hard because of the language barrier.
“I knew basic language when I came over.
“Me and my brother were always into basketball, it’s big in Lithuania, so we just started playing and joined the team at school and in summer holidays.
“Then I met an old employee of StreetGames, David Colclough.
“Through him we met new friends and expanded the basketball in Swindon. The game is becoming increasingly popular, kids in schools are playing it and we are providing support for them.
“I never wanted a prize for doing something I’m passionate about but when my name was called out I was shocked and thought ‘yes, well done’. I feel satisfied that someone noticed.
“All I wanted to do was make basketball more popular in the UK.”
The Co-operative StreetGames Young Volunteers programme trains volunteers aged 16 t0 25 in community leadership and sports coaching skills and helps them to gain sports qualifications.
John Downes, national volunteering programme manager for StreetGames, said: “Without the efforts of volunteers like Marek and his brother, young people in deprived neighbourhoods wouldn’t have the sporting chance they deserve.”