This Living Lab offers sports activities for children in a neighbourhood of Ireland's capital where many face significant economic, social and environmental challenges. It prioritises relationship building over producing results for reporting, an approach that will lead to greater social cohesion.

Around 1.35 million people live in Dublin, almost 25% of the Republic of Ireland’s population. The north east inner city is steeped in history and has a vibrant community; however, it also faces significant social, economic and environmental challenges and the effects of intergenerational drug use and crime, including gang activities. 

The area’s population has increased by 78% in 20 years, to almost 45,000. It has pockets of both high levels of disadvantage and affluence. It has 11 districts, within which there are 173 smaller areas.

The Pobal HP Deprivation Index reports that 14 smaller districts are "disadvantaged" and ten are "very disadvantaged", with a total of 16,103 disadvantaged residents of the north east inner city, making it one of the most disadvantaged areas in Ireland (Pobal, cited in ICON, 2022). Newer residents are more likely to be affluent, while historically local populations are more likely to be disadvantaged. 

There are ongoing efforts to regenerate the disadvantaged districts through community engagement and empowerment, building cross-community cohesion, and interventions targeting at-risk youth through youth leadership programmes as alternative pathways to crime. These include NEIC Dublin, a government initiative launched in 2016 to oversee the long-term social and economic regeneration of the area. Sport is a known development strategy and leveraging additional sports programmes has been identified as a key task action to help regenerate the community (Dillon, 2017).

Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI) use sport to challenge discrimination, promote cultural integration and drive social inclusion and cohesion throughout Ireland. In 2021, SARI led the Football for Unity Festival in Dublin in partnership with key local stakeholders as part of the UEFA European Football Championship 60th anniversary celebrations.

This was SARI’s first opportunity to operate within this community and the response was positive, with requests from stakeholders and parents to continue working in the area. Building on the foundation that was laid during the Football for Unity Festival, the Living Lab was initiated with input from local community, with weekly sports sessions taking place for children in the area. 

Target group

Through focus group discussions with the stakeholder and community groups, children were identified as the priority group. Many local teenagers become involved in gang activities and it was felt that engaging with children before they reached this point would be valuable. 

Children attending the Living Lab weekly sports sessions range from five to 12 years old. There is a mix of boys and girls although predominantly boys attend. As boys became the dominant group, girls became frustrated and stopped coming.

SARI now run a second session at the same time for the girls with a mix of sporting activities. The vulnerabilities of the children include poverty, unstable home lives, potential for substance abuse, proximity to drug dealing, poor literacy, marginalisation, violence in neighbourhood, abuse, and potential for racism. 

An increasing number of refugees seeking international protection (IPAs/International Protection Applicants) have been moved to the area since the Living Lab first started. The Living Lab coaches took the opportunity to discuss this with the children, including why the refugees had to leave their homes. Coaches asked the group if they would like to invite the refugee children to join, which they were happy to do.

Many new arrivals go to school with the local children. In some cases, there were tensions from school appearing at the Living Lab sessions, but they were able to work together on a team and learn about each other. There are now around six IPAs and five Ukrainians attending regular sessions.

Partners and stakeholders

  • Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI)
  • Munster Technological University 
  • A stakeholder group including representatives of the local police, Dublin City Council, Dublin NEIC, City Connects school programme and the Football Association of Ireland
  • A community group of people living and working locally, including some in community leadership roles. 


Initial sessions with the stakeholder and community groups were held in November 2021 to gauge what issues were most important to the neighbourhood and what the Living Lab should focus on. These sessions highlighted the needs of children in the community, including having a structure and something to do after school that would also be in a fun and safe environment. Football was identified as the most popular sport for children and adults, and weekly after-school sports sessions for primary school children were established. 

Through the focus groups and conversations with these groups it was determined early on that, given the sensitivity of working with and supporting this particular community which is so often “left behind”, the priority was to build trust with both the children and the community more broadly. As a result, the SARI team has prioritised relationship building and modelling the tenets of social cohesion, over the need to “produce results” in a short space of time for the Living Lab.

The Living Lab strongly focuses on modelling and recognising positive behaviour. Since January 2023, it has run a monthly award. The children are marked out of five for behaviour, attendance, engagement and performance each week and the participant with the highest monthly score wins a voucher and certificate of excellence. The same child cannot win twice. Now that there is also a second activity group for girls, there are two awards each month, one for boys and one for girls. 

To reward the whole group for their effort and behaviour, an outing was arranged in the lead up to the May 2023 Bank Holiday. The children were given the opportunity to agree amongst themselves where they would go, deciding on Jumpzone, an Inflatable Sports Adventure park approximately eight kilometres from the neighbourhood.


  • Newcomers continue to join.
  • Retention of participants.
  • Community involvement.
  • Having just started a weekly training session for age group 14-18, we hope this will draw in new participants and create a space for the older group in the Living Lab to move in to.
  • The positive response to the player of the month initiative.
  • The successful integration of six IPAs and five Ukrainians into the programme.
  • Before the Football for Unity tournament which started in June 2023, participants were keen to train for this and play as a team in the tournament.
  • The Football for Unity tournaments also saw a women’s team formed in the area. Some of these women are mothers to young children in the Living Lab.


  • Behaviour.
  • Language.
  • Trying to keep the girls with the boys while training.
  • Participants showing respect towards other participants.
  • Engagement depending who is in the group for the training sessions.
  • Building trust in a community that is one of the most disadvantaged in Ireland and being sensitive to the risk of triggering social or emotional trauma during deeper conversations.
  • Striking the right balance between being transparent about the Living Lab approach while also building trust and avoiding the risk that community members feel they are being “mined for information.” As such, project partners prioritise relationship building over producing results for the report, as this approach will also contribute to greater social cohesion.
  • Changing personnel in the stakeholder group: some original members left and replacements are not always as engaged.

Image: Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI)