Half the kids on the doorstep of Blackpool Football Club live in what’s officially defined as poverty.
Up to 200 attend Kickz sports courses at Revoe, behind the ground, three nights a week. It keeps them off the streets and out of trouble in hotspots for anti-social behaviour, youth crime and nuisance, or health inequalities.
Some progress to sports coach apprenticeships, run at Blackpool and The Fylde College by former Blackpool and Blackburn FC rising star Ciaran Donnelly, who admits he knows what it feels like “to lose your way” and offers kids a pathway out.
Some now work as club coaches. One former apprentice runs the Revoe courses.
It’s part of the club’s commitment to the community it serves – which is in a league of its own when it comes to social deprivation and health inequalities.
Some 30 per cent of the town’s kids have been identified as living below the breadline; health, nutrition, housing, education, aspirations crippled by social issues.
In Bloomfield’s corner of breadline Blackpool, the figure rises to more than 50 per cent. And that’s based on indicators already two years old – in a blighted economy.
Tonight a cross-party team of councillors and officials present a 28-point action plan to curb child poverty to Blackpool Council’s scrutiny committee.
The football club is already doing its bit, in partnership with the police, NHS Blackpool, community safety partnership, council and other agencies. It’s all done through the club’s community trust, established many years, but a registered charity only within the last three.
A town’s morale rises or falls with its team’s fortunes, but there’s more to Dr Footie than the feelgood factor – probably as well after Tuesday’s trouncing of our Premier League promotion-seeking Seasiders by West Ham.
The trust, under operational director Derek Spence, former Blackpool FC player, pitches for hearts and minds through outreach work, schools liaison, and 12 projects with specific ring-fenced funds and focus.
That’s above the 100 charitable requests the club gets each week for signed footballs, pennants and treats.
Chris Beveridge, disabled liaison officer, organises Tangerine Dream days for kids in need of a break or boost.
Derek himself plays Jim’ll Fix It and turns up at schools with star players to take kids off for a day to remember. Much of it goes unseen, unremarked, elsewhere, and club business development manager John Woodman, who plays a crucial role himself in the trust, says that should change. “The trust should be promoted, celebrated.”
He adds: “I’m here to generate revenues, on the football side, conference side, the hotel project, restaurant, looking at costs, price matching, but you can’t separate club and community. Blackpool FC is a big part of the community. The trust is good for the club and the town.”
The link with Trinity Hospice has raised £15k this year – and more by the time John, and two other club members, complete a 245-mile three-day sponsored bike ride from Wembley Arch to Arc de Triomphe in June.
The Football League twinned clubs with local hospices but Blackpool didn’t need prompting. Support goes way beyond tokenistic bucket collect-ions at other grounds.
Trinity fundraising director Jane Molyneux admits she’s been “gobsmacked by their passion, energy and enthusiasm”.
Roger Reade, the trust’s director for strategic develop-ment, says the trust’s turnover has soared from £70k two years ago to around £450k this year.
“That’s significant, in fact it’s unbelievable in a town like Blackpool. Some of it was galvanised by the Premier League and the legacy continues but much of it comes down to hard slog, team work and partnership. For us, it’s not about profit but engaging with, and helping as many people, across the Fylde, as we can.
“Much funding comes with strings attached. In the States, there’s more of a tradition of sports philanthropy.
“But every club should have a charitable arm. The trust has been a charity for three years this month, but existed as a separate community entity under Derek and Lyn Spence for longer. We merely looked for expertise in key areas to fill the gaps.
“We now have a disability sports development officer working with six special schools with the ultimate aim of providing pathways into sport and getting teams to take on others.
“We have projects and core work to engage with others in hot spots for health and inequalities. We provide pathways to help, qualifications, even jobs. Some areas have massive disadvantages. Police have problems with kids as young as under 11. We help reduce that, get lives on track, reach parents too.
“Our groundbreaking Fit2Go project works in primary schools to beat child obesity, and stress benefits of becoming more physically active and proper nutrition. It’s such a terrific scheme, the Premier League has applauded Blackpool for leading the way.
“The impetus came from discussions with NHS Blackpool. Wendy Swift, chief executive, is one of our trustees. It came from Altogether Now, a partnership between the council, NHS and the club to provide better information and deal with the health inequalities, which are disastrous compared to other parts of the country. Blackpool is our stronghold, where the biggest problems exist, but we reach across the Fylde – and it’s all down to team work.”