As part of the Alliance's Social Value of Sport month, Nick Roberts, Public Affairs Executive at The Football League blogs about the work of the Football League and its community trusts to improve people's lives.
“Thanks to the football club I’ve become the person I always knew I could be.”
For Lizzie, alcohol and drugs used to be the norm. But thanks to Derby County’s Active Choices drug and rehabilitation programme, Lizzie has been drug free for two years and has moved from supported housing to living independently.
Having built confidence, developed social skills and improved her all round wellbeing, Lizzie’s story is just one of many that highlights just how Football League clubs and the work of their community trusts are improving lives the length and breadth of the country.
With 72 club trusts in its network, The Football League Trust is a national charity using the power of sport and the magnetism of associated Football League club badges to connect with people in local communities that many organisations struggle to reach.
Guided by four key themes of sport, education, health and inclusion, the work of The Football League Trust’s network has significant social value be it inspiring people to learn, supporting people into a healthier lifestyle or providing opportunities to disengaged and disadvantaged individuals.
A focus on social outcomes
With a “new focus on social outcomes” in the Government’s recently released New Strategy for Sport, The Football League Trust welcomes this policy shift and is well placed to help support the strategy’s aims through a wide range of work undertaken by its 72 member clubs.
Brentford, just one of the 72 members, had its contribution to the community independently estimated to be £8.5m last year. The value of its work in the community was recognised by the Council when it came to approving the plans for a new stadium:
“The Council also affords weight to the fact that the Brentford FC Community Sports Trust has extensive preventative health, sporting participation and education benefits that would enhance the health, well-being and social opportunities for many people in the area.”
And while football is a core part of the operation, The Football League Trust is neither a ‘football organisation’ nor a ‘governing body’, but instead a diverse organisation that uses a variety of sports to deliver projects that offer real social impact.
More than football
By keeping sport at the heart of the operation, improving health is a natural goal for many clubs who run programmes get people active, reduce obesity, promote healthy eating and foster good mental health.
Of course, physical activity has significant social and economic benefits. For young people it’s important the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are taught early and last year the Kinder+Sport Move and Learn project reached 40,000 children moving. This can only benefit society in the long term.
Similarly schemes such as Blackpool FC’s ‘Altogether Now’, Barnsley’s ‘Fit Reds’ and Swindon Town’s ‘Fit Fans’ can be found at clubs around the country getting adults active. Indeed, at Swindon a group of 30 fans lost a combined 40 stone in just three months transforming the lives of all those involved.
With inclusion a core theme, community trusts offer something for everyone and it is significant that Walking Football is the fastest growing scheme at The Football League Trust. Aimed at over 50’s, the first ever National Walking Football Tournament took place gave the likes like Tony Bradshaw on Wigan Athletic’s community scheme the opportunity play sport again, meet new friends and lose four stone along the way. He said; “The camaraderie is unbelievable”.
And from one growing form of football to another the FLT’s Female Football Development programme has introduced over 30,000 new women and girls to the game in the last year.
Inclusion, education and health
Beyond sporting participation, community trusts do some fantastic work supporting disadvantaged people and provide opportunities that offer a brighter future.
Schemes such as Middlesbrough FC Foundation’s ‘Raise Your Game’ and Fulham’s ‘My Future Goals’ aims to get young people into work who are not in education or employment. To date 75% of the 300 who have been on Fulham’s scheme are now working, studying or training at a return of £6.92 for every £1 invested.
At Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Emeka’s journey took him from brushes with the criminal justice system through gang activity to receiving the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s ‘Outstanding Person of the Year Award’.
Not only can the social value of stories such as Emeka’s be overlooked, but nor can their estimated economic value - the social value of Charlton Athletic’s mentoring programme alone has been calculated to be over £2,373,800.
Whatever the age, The Football League Trust uses the power of sport to educate and develop skills for life. Starting with the very young, the network works with thousands of primary schools across the country. This year, Hull City’s Primary enrichment curriculum sessions engaged 12,000 people alone while The Football League Kids and Girls Cups involved over 20,000 young people.
Beyond school years, The Football League Trust provides valuable opportunities for development through the FUTSAL education programme, Community Football Degree and an Open University Degree in Business Management (Sport & Football).
By the same token, The Football League Trust delivers the Government’s National Citizenship Service programme through League clubs helping a young person’s transition to becoming an adult. 10,000 people between the ages of 15-17 now taking part annually, each taking the opportunity to develop as individuals and make a real difference to their community.
So be it on the pitch or off it, there is no doubt that football – and sport in general – makes society a richer place. Be it a united community, an upskilled workforce or quite simply a happier population, the tangible benefits of sport are there for all to see.