The Changing Lives Lab

The Changing Lives Lab

The Changing Lives Lab Group conducts research with the most vulnerable and stigmatised groups, seeking to bring methodological rigour where it is most needed. Our primary goal is to improve the lives of excluded and marginalised groups, such as people who have been to prison. To date, we have found that behaviour in prison significantly improves for people enrolled on football-based interventions, compared to a matched control group. This research is carried out in association with The Twinning Project: “a partnership between HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and professional football clubs with the objective of twinning every prison in England and Wales with a local professional football club”.

The Twinning Project is uniquely placed to help Oxford's Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion (CSSC) to investigate whether football-based interventions may help re-build the void in social support experienced by many formerly incarcerated people, leading to a reduction in re-offending. With longitudinal survey, interview, and database analyses, the CSSC aims to address how one of the most powerful social identities in the UK - football - can effect meaningful, lasting changes to some of our most vulnerable and disenfranchised citizens.



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We have been invited to Number 10 Downing Street to share our findings with an advisor to the Prime Minister and our sports research has been used in UN policy documents.

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We have contributed to efforts to raise the profile of the Twinning Project with the support of football ‘royalty’: (L-R) Arsène Wenger OBE, Dr Martha Newson, Prof Harvey Whitehouse, David Dein OBE.

Key Questions

Learn more about our approaches to the key questions guiding this research.

Funded by a Future Leaders Fellowship from UK Research & Innovation and an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council, the Changing Lives Lab Group works closely with key stakeholders to analyse a pioneering prison intervention to reduce reoffending rates. With unique access to His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service data, our team has been investigating how the Twinning Project, an international charity pairing football clubs with their local prison to deliver FA-accredited qualifications, can tackle reoffending. Our results show that the impact of high-profile, coach-led programmes starts inside prison – with adjudications (court hearings for offences committed while in prison) significantly reducing compared to a control group, and wellbeing improving for those who started the programme not feeling their best. Supporting decades of theory and experimental work, we found that social bonding lay at the heart of these improvements. Over the next four years, we will analyse reoffending data shared by the Ministry of Justice to track the individuals we worked with in prison over time, analysing not just convictions but subtle indices of societal gain, such as levels of homelessness, taxes paid, and hospitalisations. Our approach not only explains whether such programmes work, but precisely how social bonding and transformative experiences affect those most in need of positive change.


Coupled with the potential for criminal behaviour from former prisoners, reintegration challenges include assisting formerly incarcerated people to find suitable housing and employment opportunities – particularly for formerly incarcerated people with intersectional identities, e.g., in many countries ethnic minorities may face particularly harrowing obstacles to securing a job. Our lab group is now investigating what paths to bonding best encourage the general public to welcome the formerly incarcerated back into the community, by providing a platform through which employers are able to bond with ex-prisoners: shared experiences or, at least, a perception of having gone through tough times together. Sport may be the ideal platform to capture this reciprocal dynamic. Building on work supported by an Advanced ERC grant and an ESRC PhD scholarship at St Cross College demonstrating the profound and lasting bonds fused football fans around the world, we are working to better understand how sports identities can be leveraged to help support the most marginalised in our communities.



Upcoming Events
Past Events


Martha Newson at 04:30 | Why the Far Right Tries to Recruit Football Hooligans | Vice

Why the Far Right Tries to Recruit Football Hooligans | Decade of Hate | Vice

Martha Newson | Why We Hate, Sport fan bonding & violence | Discovery

Martha Newson | Why We Hate, Sport fan bonding & violence | Discovery

Martha Newson at 48:15 | The Great Debate: Is racism in sport here to stay? | Sky News

The Great Debate: Is racism in sport here to stay? | Sky News






Martha Newson | Football and Racism | BBC Radio 4 The World Tonight

Martha Newson | Why do we care so much about games? | BBC News World Service 

Martha Newson | How Sports Became Us | Freakonomics Radio



Martha Newson | Football and Parochial Altruism | BBC Radio 4