The ACE project was set up by Surrey in January 2020 to address the steep decline in members of the black community playing cricket and this month marks a year since independence after significant funding from Sport England.

Last update: 10/21/17 12:38 PM

Ebony Rainford-Brent set up the Afro-Caribbean Engagement Project (ACE) in January 2020

Ebony Rainford-Brent set up the Afro-Caribbean Engagement Project (ACE) in January 2020

Ebony Rainford-Brent has admitted her surprise at how popular the Afro-Caribbean affiliation program has proven to be and is optimistic that someone coming through the charity will sign a professional cricket contract within the next few years.

The ACE project was set up by Surrey in January 2020 to address the steep decline in members of the black community playing cricket and this month marks a year since independence after significant funding from Sport England.

Headed by Rainford Brent, the first black woman to represent England and a member of the over-50 team that won the 20th World Cup in 2009, ACE has branched out from south London to Birmingham and Bristol.

Ebony Rainford-Brent explains how a new initiative aims to tackle the decline in the number of black British professional cricketers

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Ebony Rainford-Brent explains how a new initiative aims to tackle the decline in the number of black British professional cricketers

Ebony Rainford-Brent explains how a new initiative aims to tackle the decline in the number of black British professional cricketers

Manchester, Nottingham and Leeds are also being explored as future venues with Rainford-Brent believing the initiative will need at least a decade to make a difference.

She said, “The start of the business felt almost hopeless. But actually what we see is more investment, the more marketing we put in and the more areas we get into, there is a real opportunity.

“When we started, I was doing something very small, targeted, specialized and manageable. What became clear was the demand. We have players coming into our program from all over the country and we knew we had to increase our ambitions.

“I already realized that this work takes 10 years, minimum, for me anyway. I hope this work lasts, but I realized I have to dedicate 10 good years to building this into something meaningful.

“The game as a whole understands that diversity across the board is a problem, so the good thing at the moment is that everyone realizes that there are problems to solve.

“From ACE’s perspective, it’s about generating money and income now so we can get to those other cities. My dream is by the end of next year to be in all six of those areas.”

In addition to expanding into two other cities within two years of its formation, ACE now has up to 65 participants in London alone after a talent hunt led to 25 academic scholarships being awarded initially.

Ebony Rainford-Brent says her ACE charity wants to make cricket stronger by ensuring that the game is more diverse and representative of society as a whole.

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Ebony Rainford-Brent says her ACE charity wants to make cricket stronger by ensuring that the game is more diverse and representative of society as a whole.

Ebony Rainford-Brent says her ACE charity wants to make cricket stronger by ensuring that the game is more diverse and representative of society as a whole.

Rainford-Brent hopes one of these individuals will be able to become a professional cricketer, but acknowledged that ACE cannot be judged solely on the number of players being produced.

She said, “We can strengthen the game by bringing in more diversity in different parts. We don’t know if the future CEO of a province might end up being someone who came through ACE and really got into the game.

“I had to expand what I want, because I can be fully driven. I can’t wait for that day when the first player signs his contract, male or female, I know it will happen. I said five years is our dream all around when we started with Sport England.

“But I think the broader impact is how we can help the game become more diverse; that’s across the board – media, training, management, business. Success is much broader than I would have expected.”

Ebony Rainford-Brent MBE says she didn't believe it at first when she got an email saying she was getting an MBE at the Queen's Cricket and Charity Services birthday party

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Ebony Rainford-Brent MBE says she didn’t believe it at first when she got an email saying she was getting an MBE at the Queen’s Cricket and Charity Services birthday party

Ebony Rainford-Brent MBE says she didn’t believe it at first when she got an email saying she was getting an MBE at the Queen’s Cricket and Charity Services birthday party

As with any start-up, Rainford-Brent, who received an MBE award in June for her services to cricket and charities, understands that there are still some hurdles to overcome, particularly how they can attract more females to the programme.

But she added, “I’ve never thought our game would be open to change when it comes to diversity, but I think we’re seeing that. I never thought we’d be able to solve some of these issues and I think we’re seeing that.”

“There are many hurdles, but, and perhaps I’m an optimist, I don’t think any of the issues are unsolvable. To me, it’s just a stirring of the possibilities of the future and a lot of people are getting together to lead that.”

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster but I’m proud to have spent the last 18 months on this journey.”

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