Saturday 11 January 2014
The city of Sheffield in South Yorkshire has a long and broad tradition of sport. Sheffield FC and Hallam were the first football clubs to be formed while Sheffield Wednesday, now in the Championship, and Sheffield United, now in League One, were among the founding members of the Premier League.
Outside football it hosted the World Student Games in 1991, has teams in ice hockey, basketball, rugby league, speedway, as well as being the host for the annual world snooker championships. Famous gold-medal winning Olympians to have come from the “Steel City” include Sebastian Coe and Jessica Ennis.
In this city of rich sporting heritage, the two Sheffield football club are hoping to nurture the next generation of talent with a new partnership with Premier League 4 Sport, a joint programme from the Premier league and Sport England. As with other community projects, United and Wednesday co-operate across the city with the Blades (United) working mainly in the south and the Owls (Wednesday) in the north to provide sporting opportunities to the local community.
Premier League 4 Sport uses the unique appeal of professional football clubs like Wednesday and United to engage youngsters from some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Combined with the experience and expertise of Sport England and its member associations, the programme intends to retain and sustain an interest in competitive sport while delivering 2,500 sports qualifications to coaches.
The programme was launched at Hillsborough College and Hillsborough Stadium in December and Matthew Bray, Social Inclusion Manager at Sheffield Wednesday Community Programme, said it offers an excellent opportunity for youngsters to get involved in activities in the city.
“This is a quality project,” Bray told premierleague.com. “It’s not just a case of setting up another session. There are competition opportunities for the kids. And you have got the brand of the football clubs, which is the big catch really.
“It’s not a six-month project. It’s not just a summer holiday project. It is a three-year project. That gives you chance to put in place foundations and build partnerships with organisations you have not had the chance to work with in the past.”
Premier League 4 Sport is expanding and now offers 12 different sports to maximise opportunities for young people. In 2013 athletics, boxing, golf and tennis joined the programme hoping to replicate the success already experienced by badminton, judo, table tennis, volleyball, netball, hockey, handball and basketball.
The wide range of activities are new for the Sheffield football clubs, as is the coordination with community sports clubs and facilities. But because the programme has a driving aim to develop and retain interest in sport, Bray is confident the project will help participation grow in the city.
“Our participation target is currently about 200 people a week,” he added. “The project is all about retaining people, so that’s the figure we’re working at the moment. But I think potentially the participation rates could be a lot larger than that.”
Premier League 4 Sport provides training for staff, ensuring young people receive the best possible coaching. The training also allows coaches to gain skills for different environments and circumstances, which means the project can branch out and reach more areas of the community.
“These are sports we’ve not done anything in in the past. But the good thing about this project is it has got training for staff, so we are building our workforce up as well,” said Bray. “Once the staff are trained the idea is they don’t just use it on Premier League 4 Sport, they use it in other aspects of the work. So they might use those skills in a primary school or in a community setting and that helps the project build capacity as well.”
Premier League 4 Sport is also set to launch in Bristol and Nottingham, cities, like Sheffield, where two football clubs will work hand-in-hand.
And if Sheffield is anything to go by, the opportunities provided at grassroots level will continue to grow.
“For people who have not got opportunity to play for a team, that is where the community projects come in,” said Bray. “We’ve now got expertise working in communities and in schools and we have got the contacts already to get a project like this set up. I think the national governing bodies are pleased for that grassroots groundwork.”