Monday 05 May 2014
Ensuring sport and in particular football is available to all members of the community in and around Southampton irrespective of an impairment has been at the forefront of the Saints Foundation's programme for many years.
The Foundation, which is the charitable arm of Southampton FC, runs a programme called "Saints-ability", which offers football development programmes for young people and adults with physical and cognitive impairments.
"It's taken many years to develop, but on average we deliver a football coaching programme to around 150 young people and adults each week in Southampton and the surrounding area," Gary Loveridge, a Saints-Ability officer, said. "I visit schools working with young people with impairments and supporting the schools PE programme. The pupils are very receptive to Saints visiting their school and I see huge improvements in their physical abilities throughout my weekly visits.
"I have met some friends for life and it makes me so proud to be part of such a fantastic club and charity"
"Our weekend and evening sessions are pan-disability and we attract an average of 80 players each week running junior and adult sessions across three venues. It’s fantastic to see the impact the sessions have, not just with their footballing ability, but the improvements in health, agility, self-esteem and confidence."
Saints-Ability allows players to represent Southampton at regional festivals in Hampshire, but further afield, including a trip to Barcelona for the adult team last year. Michael Pearce, who has cerebral palsy, has been with the project for many years and has played for the Saints and England disability teams. His efforts and attitude over the years won him a Saints Foundation Star Award in 2012.
"I do really enjoy my football," Pearce said. "I enjoy meeting people that I play with and play against. It makes the experience really good."
Saints-Ability operates through the support of the Premier League Charitable Fund and the commitment of the charity’s supporters and Saints fans that offer donations or take part in fundraising events such as the annual Big Bike Challenge.
The fourth edition of the Big Bike Challenge took place last month ahead of Southampton’s match against Villa Park with 28 Saints fans making a two-day, 150-mile cycle ride from St Mary’s Stadium to Villa Park.
The group was joined this year by new Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger. "Taking part in the Big Bike Challenge 2014 provided me with an opportunity to experience the impressive inner workings of the Saints Foundation first hand,” Krueger said. “This insight, combined with the knowledge that we were increasing the awareness and visibility of the Foundation, motivated me to push hard for all 150+ miles.
“It was a bonus that I was able to bond with the 28 Saints supporters that also took part in the ride. Spending time with them helped to deepen my insight into what Saints fans find important regarding the club. We all crossed the finish line with big smiles knowing that the funds we raised will be well invested back into our community, helping underprivileged individuals of all ages improve the quality of their lives."
Krueger and the fans helped to more than £18,000 through the ride to Villa Park which will support Saints-Ability, as well as Saints4Sport (for vulnerable adults) and Saints Connect (for young people).
"The feeling of elation at seeing Villa Park as we approached the finish line was amazing, especially after being so tired and sore after day one," Katie Skelton, who took part, said. "I have met some friends for life and it makes me so proud to be part of such a fantastic club and charity."
To find out more about the Saints Foundation, which works with 25,000 young people and adults each year, click here >>