Each month ConnectSport works with the Sport for Development Coalition to create a 'call for articles'. In May 2019 articles will focus on the contribution of grassroots and community sport to the Sport for Development sector, and here Chief Executive Paul Thorogood talks about the social value of the Football Foundation’s work. To submit your article, contact email@example.com.
Hi Paul, thanks for speaking to ConnectSport. What does the Football Foundation do?
"The Premier League, The FA and the Government’s Football Foundation is the UK’s largest sports charity and directs £60million every year into community sport in England.
"The Foundation is dedicated to making sure as many people who want to play our national game, purely for the love of it, have the opportunity to do so. Over the last 19 years, we have delivered community sport projects worth over £1.5billion into local communities across the country, providing over a million people with the opportunity to enjoy regular sporting activity at our sites."
Why is it important that we have sustainable facilities embedded within communities?
"Local sports facilities in this country have been neglected for the majority of the 20th century. In many communities it is not just that there is a lack of good quality pitches and changing accommodation, but that there are none at all. This places a distinct barrier in the way for thousands of people up and down the country looking to access the sport.
"These barriers are extremely significant because they hamper people’s ability to experience the inherent benefits to physical and social wellbeing that regular sporting participation provides. We therefore always ensure that, alongside applicants, we produce business plans that are financially sustainable and have a sinking fund that will cover the replacement of the surface when it reaches the end of its natural lifespan.
"In doing so, we ensure that vast populations of the community are given the opportunity to access the benefits of sport, and more importantly, they are able to do it for many years to come."
What kind of social outcomes do these facilities help to generate?
"The facilities that we fund make a significant contribution towards helping to achieve a healthier nation. Clearly, exercise has important benefits to physical health. However, there are also major mental health benefits too. There are tens of thousands of people of all ages that play at sites we have funded who had previously suffered with social isolation or depression. The regular sporting activity they now enjoy improves self-esteem due to a variety of factors, ranging from the release of endorphins to the creation of a social network of friends, through to the sheer enjoyment that playing our national game brings to many people.
"There are many other benefits to society. They encourage social cohesion, enabling people from all walks of life to integrate within their local community – particularly when professional football clubs’ expert community schemes, such as Premier League Kicks, operate from our sites. Our sites are utilised as spaces for delivering key wellbeing programmes, from weight-loss to driver awareness and parenting classes. In addition, our sites are also responsible for supporting economic growth – for the construction sector during the build stage, and for both paid and volunteer roles post-completion."
With local authorities constantly having to review and often cut spending, do key stakeholders in community sport – such as the Foundation – have a greater role to play?
"In all comparable countries on the Continent, there is no Football Foundation, so the burden for building and maintaining quality facilities for local people tends to fall entirely on local authorities. The investment from the Premier League, The FA and the Government is therefore invaluable in relieving some of this level of financial strain on the local authorities.
"This is why the Football Foundation model works so well, as our grants mean they only need to find some of the capital cost to deliver them. Over the past five years – in the teeth of the worst recession in living memory – the efficiency of our delivery has seen local authorities really buy into our work, providing enough financial support to double the funding provided by our funding partners – taking investment into community football facilities to circa £130million per year. Our experience and collaborative ways of working with local authorities has meant we continue to deliver successful projects time and time again."
The mainstream media gives most attention to grassroots football when focusing on the pathway it provides to the elite game. What more can be done to effectively highlight and demonstrate the societal impact of community sport?
"We know anecdotally that Foundation-funded sites have played a role in the development of professional players. Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Wilfried Zaha all utilised Foundation sites through Premier League Kicks in order to aid their development. The Premier League and England national team have naturally benefitted from this, but this is just a happy byproduct for us. The role that big names like these have is in helping us to publicise the more fundamental impact that these facilities have on the individuals that play at the sites and their wider impact on society.
"The challenge for the community sport sector is to bring it to life with stories so compelling the media want to cover it. Take the 72-year old walking footballer who was able to lose four stones as a result of finally having a Foundation-funded pitch to play on. Or the reformed criminal who is volunteering at his club’s new changing pavilion and turning his life around as a result. There are hundreds of fantastic stories of projects that are delivering vital support to individuals across the country and these stories are ones that need to be told.
"The Foundation have also undertaken additional research to quantify the economic benefit of our work, finding that in the last three years – for every pound we have invested into sporting infrastructure – a total of £5.49 of output is supported into the local community. Whether that be through the creation of jobs, the development of sustainable business models or through developing additional partnership funding, the Foundation’s benefits really are being felt across the country."