“It takes a village to raise a child”: Nik Hartley’s new book demonstrates the importance of youth clubs

Following on from his 2015 publication Every Street, Good Sports aims to dispel Islamophobic preconceptions of young muslim men.

18 May 2023


After 10 years of increasing cuts to council funding, the youth club has seen a rapid decline. Once a stalwart of the UK’s local communities, the few that do remain are indicators of just how much we’ve lost, and Nik Hartley’s new photo book, Good Sports – which centres on the attendees of Whitefield Youth Association (WYA) in Nelson, Lancashire – is a heartwarming look into the importance of sport, socialising and friendship.

The project arose after a conversation Nik had with his publisher Sherif, who also happens to be a school friend of his brother-in-law. Discussing a few of Nik’s other projects, Sherif mentioned Hamid Khan, who set up and still runs Whitefield. Immediately intrigued by the story, Nik wanted to see for himself what was going on at the club. And what’s more, the location of the club held particular pertinence. The barbershop that provided the story for his 2014 publication Every Street – which featured portraits of South Asian British men – lived on the same street. “It felt somewhat predestined,” Nik recalls. “In actual fact, I have a picture of the WYA building in Every Street.”

GalleryNik Hartley: Good Sports (Copyright © Nik Hartley, 2022)

At the heart of each project is the same goal: to “confront the prejudice I witnessed growing up in a racially tense (and unofficially segregated) town”. Every Street was created in direct response to the post-911 rise of Islamophobia, especially from tabloid newspapers. 20 years later, and Islamophobia is still worryingly ever-present in the UK. “My job as I saw it with both books was just to shine an honest light on a group of young men, and to show the thing that should be the most obvious thing of all; that everyone is a unique individual, born with love in their heart and brimming full of potential.”

Moreover, growing up in Nelson, Nik is accurately aware of the challenges that face young people. Once the epicentre of the British cotton industry, it’s now one of the most deprived areas in the UK with one of the highest unemployment rates. “WYA is helping the lads from this area by giving them a positive outlet in a safe and respectful environment,” Nik says. “I felt strongly that it should be documented and they should ultimately get some credit for their good work, and hopefully some financial support to help them continue.”

In terms of his approach, Nik kept things fairly simple – aiming to simply be an “observer”. He continues: “I didn’t want to put anything onto it by way of preconceptions or agendas, just to photograph in an honest way and to let the goodness shine out.” Throughout the images of warm ups, boxing matches and football sidelines, one of Nik’s favourite images from the series is the cover shot. The chaotic aftermath of a tug of war, the exhaustion, consternation and laughter come together to create something truly warming – a snapshot of lasting childhood memory. Nik paired these candid shots with portraits, “just to capture personality and that inimitable youthful miscellany of beautiful awkwardness”. Some of the shots also include the boy’s dads which, for Nik, induces “a sense of pride really shines out”.

The project as a whole has been a wholly positive one for Nik, Hamid and the boys at WYA. Nik has plans to work on a short film with aims of helping fundraising. Overall, Nik hopes that Good Sports will change perceptions. “It is my hope that people who look at the book will see the potential of this group of lads who might come from a disadvantaged area, and be part of a widely misrepresented and misunderstood social demographic, but who are engaged, motivated and, by and large, happy,” Nik ends. “They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think that the Whitefield Youth Association is doing a great job in their village.”

GalleryNik Hartley: Good Sports (Copyright © Nik Hartley, 2022)

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Nik Hartley: Good Sports (Copyright © Nik Hartley, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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