(and 2011-12, actually…..)
The story so far……
In 2009, Doorway ran a pilot football project for guests, using outdoor facilities on the edge of Chippenham. The sessions were very popular with those who came, but the numbers dwindled when winter approached, funding for taxis would have to be found, and the lead worker for the project went back to university. It was however intended to try again in 2010. While the Doorway CEO, Lisa, and Doorway Support Worker Kev, were working on the relaunch, my explorations of the Twitter community, searching for people involved with homeless issues, led me to the Homeless World Cup, and thence Jon Regler and the Streets Revolution project in Oxford. I visited their football drop-in, then in Iffley Road, and drew great inspiration from what they were achieving from small beginnings.
Our crucial jigsaw piece fell into place when the kind and generous people of Ladyfield Evangelical Church, Chippenham, offered the use weekly, for an hour, of their spanking new indoor sports court. This circumvented the previous weather issues, and is much more accessible for our guests. We had kind donations of kit and had a significant donation from the Co-operative Membership Community Fund.
We identified our aims, including:
Provide supervised football activity for people aged 16+ who would not normally have access to sports opportunities.
Offer a positive alternative to congregating on the streets outside normal drop in hours
Engage with guests of Doorway who are more comfortable expressing themselves through structured physical activity.
Encourage teamwork / social cohesion amongst guests.
Take a guest activity outside the confines of the Salvation Army building where our drop-in is based.
Provide physical activity and positive social engagement to counteract the boredom of guests’ everyday lives and to improve their general health and sense of wellbeing.
Promote social cohesion and enhanced teamwork between individual guests.
Offer new opportunities for volunteering – individuals who work full time and are therefore unable to volunteer for drop-in sessions.
We also identified longer-term aims, which included:
Offer opportunities for developing relationships with other football projects with similar or related groups.
Raise wider recognition locally of issues around homelessness
Work with the Community Football facilitator to offer access to further sporting opportunities for guests who wish to develop their skills further
Numbers were frustratingly low for several months as first, though enthusiasm and enjoyment were high from the start. We were fortunate to have involvement in the early stages from Chippenham Futsal Club coach Chris, which made a huge difference in giving our sessions structure and making the skill development more focussed. Working with the futsal ball and within the smaller boundaries contributed greatly to the emphasis on skill and control. And we always had Jon Regler to remind usof how their project also started with small numbers. Little acorns, and all that. We hoped that patience, persistence, hard work, and commitment to what we were trying to achieve, would get us to where we wanted to be. And the policy was that however few turned up, we would be there and have some sort of session, come what may.
So, where are we now, three years on? The numbers involved, the fitness, and the skill levels, have all clearly increased. Female guests have played a major part, defying the sexist assumptions of some outside parties. The team has played in half a dozen tournaments, including Wiltshire Addiction Support Project annual tournaments, and Oxford and Wiltshire Social Inclusion Cups, emerging with no silverware, but with great credit for both their performances and their attitude. (Though it has to be mentioned that the fact that mixed gender teams can’t compete in FA-affiliated tournaments is a huge frustration). And we have at least managed on a number of occasions to progress beyond the group stages to the knock-out stages. Even though we have then been knocked out. A bit like England, really….. In the WASP tournaments of 2012 and 2013, we had enough players to put out two teams. This was, of course, because the ladies could play.
We have played every Monday, come what may, including ‘ordinary’ Bank Holiday Mondays, with the odd Christmas exception. And there’s still huge enthusiasm, and always a really competitive, but fair(ish) game. Kev, the football project’s lead, deserves enormous credit for the ‘every Monday’ consistency, despite his other commitments often making the day a logistic nightmare for him. My own ability to help run the sessions has been reduced hugely by my own increasing work commitments, though I get there to play most weeks, and thankfully Ryan has stepped up to the plate in my stead. And Steve continues to be as dependable a volunteer as ever, shaming us with his fitness.
How much have we achieved our originally stated objectives? I think that all of these have been achieved, though it is difficult to find objective measures for some of these outcomes. But subjectively – here are some comments from the players:
“Enjoy playing football. The people who attend are friendly and I feel comfortable here.”
“Excellent workout, interesting drills and a good opportunity to be involved in learning about football and a good game played with enthusiasm. Looking forward to more next week.”
“Great stuff. Enjoyed it a lot.”
“Very enjoyable session and good chance to be introduced to soccer skills training, volunteers very helpful, and immaculate facility.”
“I really enjoy football, and I really enjoy the company. This is ideal for me as it’s local, and it’s my favourite sport ”
“Everyone was smiling at the end of the session”
“We’re working more as a team…we are finding our own strengths and weaknesses on which we are working…every week we are getting better every time we turn up”
“Things are improving every week”
“We were all working together really well as a team, as well as on our own”
“People are more aware of each other and their individual skills, so are helping improvements in each other. For some, they are becoming more extrovert. I think this is a good place for people to socialise and also to become fitter”
“Good fun, love the people!”
Some boring stats:
We get teased about the kit, chosen by one of our players, who sadly had a small stroke during one of the games, has mercifully recovered pretty well, but understandably does not now play. But we’re pretty proud of it really. I for one think of him when we put it on. By the way, Kev dealt with the situation when the stroke occurred completely coolly and brilliantly. As indeed did he when I broke my wrist….
But apart from those episodes, we have had, and continue to have, the most enormous FUN. Long may this last…
(An edited and adapted version of this piece was published in Streets Revolution’s on-line ‘morethanwords’ digital magazine, October 2013, but unfortunately the link I have for this no longer works)