Wednesday 02 January 2013
The community work of the Premier League and its clubs was proudly put on show recently as policy makers from across Europe visited England to view projects in action.
Belgian and Dutch members of the European parliament travelled to Manchester while a French MP and members of the French diplomatic corps visited Arsenal to find out more about the wide range of schemes and initiatives that the Premier League and the clubs take part in.
The aim of the visits was to find out more information about how the power and the popularity of football can be used to engage with and benefit local communities.
In London, French MP Jean-Francois Humbert and diplomats from the French embassy visited the offices of the Arsenal Foundation and learnt about the history of the club's community department, as well as the range of work that takes place, including Kickz, work experience programmes, drug and alcohol awareness schemes and Kick It Out events.
"I am amazed by the scale and the quality of the community projects run by the Premier League clubs"
The delegation visited Elthorne Park, in the Hillside area of Islington, to watch a football session for adults with mental health issues before going to Pakeman Primary School, which lies in the shadow of the Emirates Stadium, to see how the Arsenal Double Club initiative works.
The Double Club combines football and education to offer pupils a fun way of engaging with their academic studies. The programmes has modules in literacy, numeracy, citizenship, French, Spanish and German as well as the opportunity of a football session with an Arsenal-trained coach.
"I am amazed by the scale and the quality of the community projects run by the Premier League clubs," said Mr Humbert, who sits in the Education and Sport Committee. "The Double Club project at Arsenal makes a difference for the kids in local schools.
"The support given to disabled footballers is also absolutely brilliant. These projects are the best evidence that worldwide commercial success could go hand in hand with local engagement and solidarity."
Francois Courant, the deputy press counsel at the French embassy, was also impressed with what he saw at the Arsenal Foundation.
"I live around here so I knew the club was involved in the local community but I was very impressed at the diversity of the forms it could take," he told premierleague.com.
"It was great to see that they were taking care of the community around the stadium, not only the kids in school. I was very impressed by what we saw with the project with adults with mental-health issues. It was cold, it was pouring with rain and they were still out there playing, enjoying themselves and making friends. It was very moving."
Mr Courant hopes the ideas that have been garnered from the visit will be utilised by clubs in France.
"At a time when funding is short and budgets are stretched the work of the clubs and the Premier League is a vital lifeline for my local communities"
MEP Arlene McCarthy
"The delegation were looking at how sport in Britain works and trying to get ideas of best practices," he added. "We saw how it works and report it to France and maybe some ideas can be taken on.
"In France there is the same potential in that there is the same interest for football and great teams and you also have the same urban problems.
"It's very impressive to see what a really professional league is doing in the community and how it is looking and acting outwards. There are ideas to get from the various projects I have seen and how from football and people interested in football, you can derive from this interest and bring them to other things like reading and doing their homework."
Arsenal Foundation Double Club co-ordinator Jack McNicholl hopes that sharing information with other people will show how straightforward community engagement can be.
"We like to show people what we do but more than that we want them to know that it is possible and that they can do it," he said. "Having the Premier League's involvement is a big help. It allows us to do all this kind of stuff.
"English clubs in general have been doing it for quite a while so that is why we get lots of these visits from the continent because we have blazed a bit of a trail with community work."
In Manchester, the local MEP Arlene McCarthy, Vice-Chair of the European Parliament's Friends of Football Intergroup, hosted a visit for a delegation of Belgian and Dutch MEPs.
They saw an education project run by City in the Community, the Barclays Premier League champions' Football in the Community scheme. The project gives local schoolchildren the opportunity to try out different sports.
"I am keen to spread the word to my colleagues in Europe about the work Manchester City Football Club are doing in the local community," said McCarthy.
"I truly appreciate the positive work the club is engaging in to change young people's lives for the better. I have offered my support to the Kickz project locally by securing additional funds from the music industry and as a result young people are getting a unique chance to develop sports and music skills.
"Such initiatives should be applauded and encouraged throughout Europe"
Dutch MEP Emine Bozkurt
"At a time when funding is short and budgets are stretched the work of the clubs and the Premier League and the additional funding it attracts - £3 for every £1 of Premier League money spent – is a vital lifeline for my local communities and good value for money."
The dignitaries were also given a tour of Etihad Stadium and the City Football Academy, the 80-acre development adjacent to the main stadium which will rejuvenate the east of the city, as well as a presentation from the club’s chief infrastructure officer Jon Stemp.
"It is great to see that Manchester City FC is much engaged in providing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with sports opportunities," said Emine Bozkurt, Dutch MEP and Chair of the European Parliament Friends of Football Intergroup.
"Aside from leisure or competition, sports have a social function. Opportunities like these are not only providing youngsters with a chance to exercise, but are helping to develop their social skills and are providing them tools for the future. Such initiatives should be applauded and encouraged throughout Europe."