Neil Roberts (NR): Today, on the Community Business Fix, we are in Liverpool, a city synonymous with the beautiful game.
Liverpool is a very sporty city in general, but football is especially important because it brings people together, and that is the power of football in our city.
It is in our genes. You have got a young lad called Robbie Fowler who only lived down the road. There are a lot of kids who aspire to becoming another Robbie.
NR: It is a warm Saturday morning in Admiral Park and 50 or so young, aspiring Robbie Fowlers are running around under the watchful eye of coach, Georgie.
Georgie: We just try and start them off with little ball skills, get them dribbling round, getting touches on the ball, and then we split them up into games.
Child 1: Well, we play football and learn skills on how to improve and what you should do and stuff.
Parent 1: I used to play on this as a football player. My school was there. That was 40 years ago. So, it is really good to see that this is getting used and it is developing brilliantly. It is a lovely place. It is in the heart of a tough community, but, you give a kid a ball in Liverpool, and they are going to know what they are going to do with it.
NR: This is series is all about community businesses, supported by Power to Change. And this episode is about how a community football club in Toxteth has been using sport to unlock the potential of the youth in the area. Target Football has been organising football-based activities for nine years; their mission to improve their social skills and increase their confidence and self-esteem so they are less likely to drift into antisocial or risk-taking behaviours.
As you will hear, they have done it through hard graft, grants and income-generating projects. They are one of the seven groups who have been recently funded through a pioneering programme called The Marks & Spencer Community Business Challenge, which has brought them income and mentoring. More of that later.
Jen is one of the parents whose children are benefiting from the project in Liverpool L8.
Parent 2: It is really important because you look around, and I think L8, as well, is one of the most deprived areas, and there is a massive mix of people as well from different backgrounds. So, I think it is really important to bring kids together to build confidence and also disciplines them as well; the boys are strict on them as in they don’t let them mess around or let them give any cheek.
Parent 3: If you actually speak to the kids themselves, they will tell you they all get up, it is a happy day for them because you will all go to Admiral and play football, all their mates will come and they will make new friends. It gives them something to do. They just love it. You see them, they come with a smile and they leave with a smile.
Parent 4: It says a lot about the community, really. I think they were craving for stuff like this. It is hard. Children don’t play out anymore. They are pushing buttons on computers.
NR: The duo behind Target Football are Reg Standish and Paul Hurford. They have been involved in sports and community projects for some years and were both made redundant at the same time. They were working together on outreach projects at a local youth club, and decided to pull their expertise to do something to counter challenges the city was facing as austerity bit, using Admiral Park as the centre of operations. Paul Hurford:
Paul Hurford: When the cuts came in, everything was just decimated: the youth service, all these small community programmes, and there was obviously a gap there and there was obviously a need. So, we decided to see what we could do, see what funding we could get.
Reg had a development plan that he had worked on, and so we sat down and we started with that, and we changed it a little bit to see what was achievable with just the two of us. This place was derelict at the time, so we started the ball rolling to see if we could get something done with Admiral Park. And we did; after a year or so, we started our Soccer Saturdays, which has been going for eight years now.
NR: A three-year grant from the Big Lottery paid Reg and Paul’s wages and the programme expenses, enabling them to establish the business. For the first four years, they ran Admiral Park for its owners, Plus Dane, but there came a point when Plus Dane could no longer afford to pay them to manage it. So, Paul and Reg set about getting hold of the lease, which they did last year. It was a crucial step for them. The ownership of assets gives community businesses credibility and allows them to plan for the future. Here is Ged Devlin, Power to Change’s development manager.
Ged Devlin: Being able to borrow against an asset, being able to use that asset on your balance sheet in order to be able to approach decent social investors and to be able to raise capital against it is probably one important thing. But, also, that security of tenure is an important aspect as well. If organisations are going to be looking at how they explore broader options in order to deliver wider community benefits, I think they have got to know how long they are going to be in situ, how long they are going to have the asset and how long they are going to be able to utilise it.
NR: The success of the Admiral Park project brought Target to the attention of the owners of Stanley Field Sports Centre, and Reg and Paul have big plans for it.
Paul Hurford: When they approached us to manage it, obviously we jumped at it because we want it to be taken over. We don’t want it to fall into disrepair like other sites have. So, we are now planning, for the next five years, to, if we can, get hold of the lease, get some funding, upgrade the site, put some more pitches in, so we can generate more income to sustain our company.
NR: Those plans for expansion came directly from their involvement in the Community Business Trade Up Programme, run by the School for Social Entrepreneurs, or SSE, in partnership with Power to Change. Community businesses like Target receive up to 12 days of leadership and business development training over several months, alongside a match trading grant of up to £10,000, if they manage to increase their income. Here is Paul again:
Paul Hurford: I went to workshops, we visited others’ businesses, and, with the help and support of the SSE and Power to Change, we did improve our traded income. We have got the astro pretty much used every day after school, so it is ticking over nicely. We would now like to develop that site. So, it is a case of replicating what we have done with Admiral: approaching the council, getting the business plan together, putting a development plan together.
I speak to Lisa from the SSE on quite a regular basis. We get a lot of emails inviting us to workshops and other events that they hold in Blackburn House down the road. It is a really good programme that they run at SSE.
NR: Reg and Paul have also recently been getting support and funding from the new M&S Community Business Challenge programme, which we mentioned at the top of the show. It is an innovative partnership between Power to Change and Marks & Spencer. Seven community businesses have already received a package of £10,000 funding and business support. One of the other finalists, incidentally, was Homebaked – the community bakery in Anfield we featured a couple of shows ago. More details about the programme at the end of the show, but it is an interesting collaboration between big business and largely volunteer-led local projects. When it launched, Pete Swallow, Merseyside M&S head, stressed how crucial it is for community organisations to be sustainable. Sarah Ford is head of sustainability at M&S.
Sarah Ford: We believe our business will only prosper if the communities around our shops in the UK thrive too. And, ultimately, this is places where our customers, our colleagues and our neighbours live too. So, it is important that we invest back into those. Insight has told us that, in those communities, it is really important to our customers and colleagues that we connect locally, be that through fundraising, volunteering or donating surplus product. But those are the issues that matter most that they would like us to focus on.
NR: Sarah has already been working with Reg and Paul to bring their projects under one umbrella and develop a robust five-year business plan.
Sarah Ford: The Target Football project has been a really fantastic project because our property team have been able to own it. They were looking for a project that, as a team, they could work on together. They have been able to utilise their skills in a different way: so, pulling together a workshop for Target, working together on the business plan, providing feedback and suggestions. So, really testing themselves with what they know. But, also, it is about bringing different teams together. So, you have got a team come together to work with Target, covering business planning, sustainability, leaseholder and property management guidance, who wouldn’t necessarily work on a project in a way like that before. So, it has been a great way for them to build as a team together.
NR: So, there is support from outside the community, but how to Paul and Reg stay connected with the needs of the local community?
Paul Hurford: We bring people in from the different parts of the community to ask their advice, and we are always asking parents, young people, all participants for feedback on how they think we could improve, how they think we could do things differently. That has helped us over the years, and we are not scared to take criticism.
We have got a board that myself, Reg, Gary and other representatives – young people an coaches – will come and sit on. The volunteers are qualified coaches and they take responsibility for their own team. They do fundraising, they take them away, they organise friendly games and training. So, we have got about 12 volunteers with the grassroots, but we also have people who just come up and help us with the field. Parents will always chip in when they can. They can see what we are trying to achieve. They can see what we are doing is good for the community. So, people are always willing to help, which is great.
NR: We have heard how it all came about and how Paul and Reg hope to develop it, but, in practical terms, what does Target Football offer alongside Soccer Saturday?
Paul Hurford: An interschools league on Admiral Park. Sometimes we can do three in a year of boys and girls. We have been funded by Children in Need for the past six years to run our Detach youth programme, which is diversionary activities of an evening, football-based. We have done a lot of programmes with girls in primary schools, girls in secondary schools and women’s football. We also work with veterans, so we have an over-40s side that plays on Admiral Park. We have worked with the youth offending team and the youth service. Obviously, we manage the two facilities and, on these facilities, we will do soccer camps and holiday activities. We have done mostly soccer camps, but we did do multisport camps with the council.
NR: We are here on Saturday morning as the kids start arriving with their parents. Today the ages range from 4 to 12 with a coach-free change group working on their skills before they finish with a game and a photo of the player of the week. Axel is an enthusiastic regular here, brought along by his dad, AnaS Salusi.
Child 2: We have been practising control with the ball and then we have done matches. We have been learning to control and pass and, when you have the ball, pass it. When you get the ball, pass the ball.
Parent 5: Obviously, becoming parents and so on and so forth, we have been through a lot, and, by the time our eldest was old enough to come here, it just felt like a highlight of the week, really, especially on a nice sunny day. You see all the different strips, all the different people, obviously, from all over the place. It is Toxteth after all. It has just been a part of who we are, almost, now.
NR: Another parent, Billy, is on the side line with a younger child in his arms, as he watches his older son kicking a ball around.
Parent 6: When you look at the amount of children that are here, every age, every ability, male, female, it is multicultural, you learn a lot more than football. There is a lot of personal development there as well.
NR: So, these sessions are not just about developing football skills and they are not only of benefit to the kids. The parents and carers who bring them along also get something out of them.
Parent 7: I am with girls from the school. We are all full-time workers, so we don’t really get to see each other at school. So, we come and watch our children play together and we have a lot of social chat as well.
Parent 8: I think it is teamwork and socialising and being part of the children who live around here. He goes to school a bit further away from here, but I think he has made a lot of friends and I think that is what it is about. Hopefully, they will look after everything around in the area as well, to grow up to not be in the gangs and things that maybe do exist around here a little bit. That is what we hope, anyway.
NR: And Paul agrees their work is about more than football.
Paul Hurford: Football is a great tool for engaging the community. Obviously, it is really good for your health, the social side of it, getting out and about, meeting people from different ages, different backgrounds, different cultures, all coming together to play football, which is, in turn, good for your mental health.
One young person in particular I worked with, he had a lot of personal issues with his family. He had ended up being homeless and had other issues. But we managed to engage him on our project, and he will tell you himself that, coming down and playing football twice a week gave him something to focus on, so it gave him something to get up and get out of bed for.
NR: Target’s coaching staff are obviously key to its success. Opportunities for volunteers is an important element of Target’s philosophy. Reg and Paul see volunteers progressing into coaching training and, ultimately, employment. These opportunities will increase as Paul and Reg’s plans for expansion grow. Carl is one of the coaches.
Carl: The journey here, for me as a coach, meeting Reg and the support, not only what Reg and Paul have given me, but also the other coaches, that has set me a pathway going right the way through. I have done Professional Clubs Academy and I have been coaching non-league football, so semi-professional, which I am still at.
Paul Hurford: We have got five part-time or sessional coaches. They come and work on all the programmes: with the teenagers, with the soccer schools, with the soccer camps in the holidays. Then, obviously, we have got the volunteers as well, who are great. Without the volunteers, we wouldn’t have a grassroots football club and these teams playing every weekend.
NR: For Ged Devlin, Power to Change’s development manager, it is incumbent on community businesses like Target Football to provide paid employment opportunities for volunteers like Carl.
Ged Devlin: I certainly think that generating local employment and local well-paid jobs needs to be one of the real outcomes from these organisations. So, income generation prioritised in order to fund paid staff in well-paid jobs that perform key roles.
NR: When they started, Paul Hurford was mentored by fellow Target director, Reg Standish. He is now doing the same to others at the beginning of their journey into community businesses. We have heard before, on these podcasts, how important peer support is. After all, it is at the root of all communities, businesses or not. You never know, one of your volunteers might become a paid employee or could go on to launch their own project. Remember Kitty’s Laundry on the other side of Liverpool? That came out of another community business, Homebaked. Here is Paul again.
Paul Hurford: Any experience or advice I can pass on to people around grant writing or running a community business, I will. I was on the phone to a lady from another organisation in the north of Liverpool not so long ago, about how she could improve her sites and what funds to go for and what she needs to possibly think about when she is writing the bid. I think that I have past on quite a lot of the knowledge and experience that I have gained and I have got from Reg.
NR: So, where to Reg and Paul go next? What are the headlines of the development plan they have made with the help of the mentors from M&S?
Paul Hurford: In five years time, we would like to have the two facilities developed, up to standard where we are generating income from the higher of those facilities, either the field or the astro pitches or the clubhouse, so that myself and Reg can continue to look for grants and put on more programmes over the two sites, get more people involved either as coaches or volunteers, and, hopefully, create more opportunities to take part in healthy activities.
And we have been able to raise more funding because we are the lease owners. We have just got a grant from the Football Foundation to extend the pitch and put this pitch barrier in. We are getting a stand. We have also just got a conditional offer from Sport England, to put a clubhouse on the site. So, we want to create a community hub recreation-style club for the area. So, we will have a football pitch but we will do other activities as well, other social activities and other outside-of-the-box activities, like the local pigeon group are going to base themselves here. We are going to have a walking club, we are going to have a running club, table tennis, chess, draughts. We want to engage with the older members of the community, bring them up to maybe watch the young people play football. So, that is the plan. That is the next five-year plan.
NR: But, whatever plans Paul and Reg have for Target, football will always be at the core.
Paul Hurford: It is always good to see the small differences just a game of football can make to a young person’s life. It brings people together and unites people, and I think that is the power of football in our city.
NR: If you have been inspired by the work of those at Target Football and have a community project you are looking to launch, the M&S Community Business Challenge programme could be for you. Here is Sarah Ford again.
Sarah Ford: So, we are launching the programme in Plymouth, in May 2019, and Bristol and Bradford this autumn. So, we are looking for local community businesses to apply in those certain locations. It doesn’t matter whether you are established or whether you are just starting out, we would love to hear from you. So, please check for details on our M&S Community Business Challenge website.
My top tip, when you do come to apply, is just be as specific as possible. The most successful applicants have come with a really targeted area that they are looking for support with or a question that they want the M&S team to help them solve. If you are successful, you will get the support from us and a share of the £50k award fund. So, we look forward to hearing from you.
NR: Thanks for those tips from Sarah Ford at M&S. And, if you want to find out more, head over to hyperurl.co/mscbc, that is hyperurl.co/mscbc.
If this story has inspired you to set up a community business, delve into the rest of our shows and check out powertochange.org.uk, where you can find the latest news on events, other grants and support. We will be adding links and other useful information on the show notes for this episode and you can connect with us by following on Twitter @thecbfix. We would love to hear your thoughts and about your experiences that connect with the show.
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Thanks for listening to this Fieldwork production, commissioned by Power to Change. It was presented by me, Neil Roberts; with research and production by Curtis James; coproduction, sound and music by Simon James; writing and executive production by Chris Paling.