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South African scores British title with Twinning Project



It’s not often that a Jewish South African boytjie is awarded an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by King Charles III.

Hilton Freund, 55, who grew up in Johannesburg, has been recognised for helping thousands of prison inmates through a charity initiative called the Twinning Project. It helps reduce reoffending through sport by twinning prisons with their local football team.

“Not bad for someone from Sandown High School,” said a proud Freund this week who, in spite of living in the United Kingdom for 30 years, still has very strong ties to South Africa.

An MBE is given for an outstanding achievement or service to the community which has had a long-term, significant impact.

As chief executive officer of the Twinning Project, Freund has touched many lives and helped hundreds of former inmates reintegrate into society.

“Sport is a catalyst for change and the Twinning Project works to reduce reoffending rates by harnessing the power of football and other sports to engage with people in custody and unlock opportunities for future employment in local communities upon release from prison,” he said.

Since launching in London in 2018, the Twinning Project has delivered hundreds of coaching and refereeing courses in men’s, women’s, and young offenders’ prisons.

“If you had asked me when I was a student at Rhodes University in Grahamstown if I knew about football administration, the criminal justice system, or had any real charity experience, the answer would have been a definite no,” said Freund, who interacts regularly with special advisors to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on matters concerning prisoners and their release.

“I always loved football, but that’s where it stopped,” he said.

In the United Kingdom, more than 70 Premier League and English Football League clubs engage with the Twinning Project and pair with their local prisons to deliver coaching, stewarding, lifestyle skills, and other employable qualifications to prisoners to help them prepare for release.

The Twinning Project was founded by British businessman David Dein, MBE, known for being a former co-owner of Arsenal Football Club and the founder of the Premier League. He approached Freund with the idea.

“We had no idea where it would lead us,” said Freund, not knowing then that the initiative would have an impact on so many lives, using the power of football to bring hope, skills, and new opportunities for people after they finish their sentences.

“I find the graduation ceremonies quite emotional,” said Freund, recalling many instances where former prisoners have come up to him saying how the project had changed their lives.

“One guy who served time for drug dealing at HMP Wormwood Scrubs is now a community coach for Queens Park Rangers. Another guy who served time in HMP Lincoln is working for Lincoln City Football Club in the finance department. There are many moving stories, and it feels good to have played a small part,” he said.

The Twinning Project aims to engage about 48 prisoners per year at many of the 119 prisons in England and Wales in football-based programmes to improve their mental and physical health.

“The participants can also obtain a qualification that will improve their life chances including by helping them to gain employment on release and in turn reduce the likelihood they will reoffend,” said Freund.

Said Dein, “Hilton has served as chief executive since its launch and has been instrumental in growing and expanding the Twinning Project across the United Kingdom as well as to the United States, and to Italy, South Africa, and Australia in partnership with the FIFA Foundation.”

Freund brought the Twinning Project to South Africa earlier this year.

South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services and the football club SuperSport United teamed up, with funding from the FIFA Foundation, to launch the Twinning Project at Kgosi Mampuru II Management Area for 48 prisoners from March 2024. Two further prisons in South Africa will benefit from Twinning Project programming in 2024, with Kaiser Chiefs FC and Cape Town City preparing to start offering Twinning Project provision.

The honours list comes out twice a year – once at New Year and a second time for the King’s official birthday. The honours are awarded based on merit or on exceptional achievement or service, and have been given out by monarchs since at least 1348.

“Winning this award as an immigrant is the pinnacle of my career,” Freund told the SA Jewish Report.

“My family is very proud. For my two daughters, it’s an opportunity to go shopping for a new outfit, and for my wife, Lee, who went to Carmel High School in Pretoria, it’s a great excuse to buy a hat for our family visit to Buckingham Palace later this year.”

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