Everything to play for

Friday, 16 May 2014 - 11:44am

The Homeless Football Association (FA) believes that people experiencing homelessness have the potential to change their lives positively, and that football can facilitate this transformation. We use football to give people the opportunity to develop their skills and abilities, gain self-respect and confidence, improve their health, and ultimately transform their life.

A former player and volunteer with the Homeless FA, Rosie is the Peer Mentor Coordinator for 2014 and will help train and support 25 volunteers nationally.

The transformation often begins with confidence. Since being established in 2012, the Homeless FA has seen over 250 qualifications achieved. More importantly to our players, and to us, 100% of participants have reported increased confidence levels.

Rosie acknowledges that she had no confidence in herself when she joined our 2012 Training Centre programme. She was ashamed of her self-harm scars and, despite the hot weather, wore a long-sleeved top under her training kit.

Rosie reflects: “So much of my life has been a challenge and if I was honest it’s been difficult to remain positive. The Arsenal Training Centre really helped me. It was clear from the start that the Homeless FA and everyone that works for them didn’t judge me, but genuinely believed in me, and this made me feel worthwhile for the first time in a long time and much, much more confident. The Training Centre was a reason to get up and leave the hostel and it gave me something that nothing else ever has, belief in myself. It just made me happy.”

Our Training Centres are five-day programmes of activity delivered in partnership with professional football clubs. In 2014, they will involve up to 300 players nationally. We want the Training Centre to be a positive learning experience in an aspirational environment. In Rosie’s case her increasing confidence was apparent. By week four she was wearing short sleeves to the training session. By week five she was leading training sessions. Five weeks seems like a short period of time, but we see it as a catalyst. It accelerates the momentum being built by the services that support our players on a daily basis.

Players completing the Training Centre can achieve their Level 1 Sports Leaders Award. The sense of achievement and satisfaction felt by players earning this award is key to providing a positive experience of what learning can be. The Sports Leaders Award is a great way to develop a person’s confidence in themselves and also in a group. As one of our players in 2013, Stacey, comments: “The football side of things is really fun but it was more important to interact with people in a positive way.”

Creating a positive experience, especially in the classroom, is critical to encouraging players to continue into further education and training. We gather feedback through surveys and interviews - and one survey response was: “The Training Centre gave me a sense of belonging - I looked forward to seeing everyone every week. When it finished I wanted that feeling again so I signed up to an IT course! Now I’m learning to design web pages.”

A love of football can help so many individuals into different pathways by identifying different talents and passions. Some 63% of players went on to do further courses and qualifications after the Training Centre.

While the football clubs’ members of staff do a brilliant job of encouraging and supporting players, the most inspiring encouragement comes from volunteers like Rosie who have been players themselves. At the Arsenal Training Centre in 2013, Rosie provided support to the 30 players as a Peer Mentor. She was subsequently given the role of Team England Peer Mentor at the Homeless World Cup in Poznań, Poland.

Alongside Rosie, all of the Team England coaching staff had experience of homelessness and had taken part in Homeless FA programmes. Players who had volunteered at the Training Centres were also able to be part of the staff teams at international activities. We try to be as flexible as possible, but with three-quarters of our volunteers gaining full-time employment in 2013, they sometimes missed out on activities with us.

Some found this transition more challenging than others. Billy, a player in 2012 and volunteer in 2013, secured a part-time contract and moved into a permanent contract partway through the Training Centre programme. Although pleased to be working, he found he had to adapt his expectations. He explains: “I’ve always loved football. That’s what I thought my career would be in. It still can be, but for now I need to go to work and pay rent. I’ve got my own place and I’m getting stuff sorted out. I just wish I could do more stuff with you [Homeless FA]. Sometimes I struggle a bit with work because, doing maintenance, it’s not what I am passionate about.”

Sometimes a football programme can lead someone to a career - even if it isn’t in football. Having seen Rosie’s abilities and the valuable role she held in supporting the players in 2013, she was appointed the Homeless FA’s Peer Mentor Coordinator. She now oversees the Peer Mentoring programme and in 2014 will be managing 25 volunteers and ensuring they are all suitably trained and supported. “This whole experience has been life-changing” Rosie says. “I could never have imagined 18 months ago that today I would be not only in a job I enjoy but training for a career.”

Many of the players applying to the Homeless FA Training Centres do so for the football. By providing learning and volunteering opportunities, we hope to help them recognise other passions and skills that they may have. As James, who played in the 2011 Homeless World Cup and has been a volunteer for two years with the Homeless FA, explains, “It isn’t winning a trophy. The expectations of the players should really be to gain as much as they can and come back a stronger you, a stronger person. Come back and tackle the obstacles that stand in your way in general life.”

The Homeless FA Community is open to any project or organisation that wants to use football as a means of improving the lives of people experiencing homelessness in England. To find out more please contact Community@homelessfa.org

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Lindsey Horsfield

Chair, Homeless Football Association

Lindsey led on our national project Aiming High: Sport for All which aimed to increase access to sport for people experiencing homelessness in England. She is now chair of the Homeless FA.

Twitter: @Sports_Lindsey