It started as a game of football.But now, 10 years on, Faith and Football helps thousands of youngsters across the area with essential reading, business and life skills as well as a place to play the sport.
The organisation was set up in 2002 in Portsmouth by Pompey legend Mick Mellows, pictured right, and stars Linvoy Primus, also right, and Darren Moore – who both played for Pompey at the time.
Together, the three organised a football league in Paulsgrove to unite the community, police officers and church members at a troubled time. The following year they held three community leagues, branching out to people in Somers Town and Buckland, and now there are 15 inner city leagues in Portsmouth.
Not only that, but the charity runs various schemes in Birmingham, Plymouth, Barnsley and Farnborough.
And it’s not just about football any more. It has expanded to include school enterprise competitions, literacy schemes, anti-bullying roadshows, and the annual free Fratton Park carol service.
It has also arranged vast numbers of fundraising events, including golf days, the Pedal for Primus bike ride and hiking challenges.
‘When we started Faith and Football we didn’t really have any expectations for it,’ says 64-year-old Mick.
‘We just felt it was the right thing to do at the time. We had no idea how it would grow, it’s been remarkable.
‘It’s great to look back on the past 10 years and look at how much we’ve achieved in that time. It makes us really excited about what we can do in the next 10 years.’
The charity was originally intended to provide a link between the community and its Christian population through football, but as relationships grew, those at the organisation discovered there were many needs in the community they wanted to address.
‘At first our vision was just to get everyone together to play football and enjoy each other’s company,’ says Linvoy, 38.
‘But the more we got to know people through playing football, the more things started to change.
‘All sorts of problems started to arise and we wanted to do what we could to meet those needs. Gradually it became a bit of an enterprise.’
Soon after Faith and Football launched its first education programme, the Social Enterprise and Business Challenge, in 2005, to help equip youngsters with essential business and life skills.
The challenge asks year nine pupils from 10 secondary schools across the city to set up and run their own business for four months.
‘The programme teaches children skills they might not learn at school,’ Mick comments.
‘They learn to work as a team, have persistence and believe in themselves and their own ideas.
‘They have to show a lot of dedication to make it work and a lot of them realise they are gifted with skills they never knew they had.’
When the four months are complete, the youngsters create story-boards outlining their work and the charity selects a winning team to send on an all-expenses-paid trip to India.
Faith and Football supports orphanages and care homes in India, and the children have a chance to see its work out there.
Following on from this scheme’s success, the charity launched its second education programme two years later, the Extra Time Literacy Scheme.
This supports children with reading ages below their actual age by offering one-on-one lessons with Christian volunteers to improve their literacy.
The project was first piloted with year two pupils in Charles Dickens Infant School, Landport, and now runs in five Portsmouth schools.
‘This is such a valuable project,’ Linvoy adds.
‘It makes a huge difference to so many kids and we do it all for free.
‘It’s not like we’re trying to take over the teaching from the schools, we just want to help boost what the schools are doing with kids who are really struggling and need the extra support.
‘This programme has amazing results.
‘All of the kids’ reading improves dramatically when they get involved with it. We really hope that over the next few years we can extend the scheme and offer it to all schools in the area.’
The charity also runs a programme aimed at troubled or disadvantaged youths, called Team Talk, which offers support in character development and identity.
YOUNGSTERS LEARN BUSINESS SKILLS
THE Social Enterprise and Business Challenge, run by Faith and Football, is now in its seventh year.
The challenge asks secondary pupils of 10 schools across the area to get into teams of four to six and set up and run their own business for four months.
Through this project they must meet the curriculum requirements of enterprise and work-related learning in a fun and relevant way.
All schools are allocated a business mentor who supports the teams and hosts business surgeries.
After the four-month period details of the businesses are collected and judged by the charity to find a winning firm.
The winning team will have demonstrated exceptional enterprise, teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills.
Children in the winning team will be sent to India with the charity to see some of the work Faith and Football does with orphanages and schools out there.
Linvoy Primus, of Faith and Football, said: ‘Our main aim is to inspire youngsters to reach their full potential in whatever way they can and this is a great way of doing that.
‘We want to give them the tools to make sure they are successful in life, no matter what they decide to do.’
GETTING CHILDREN INTO BOOKS
Extra Time Literacy Scheme, run by Faith and Football, aims to improve the reading skills of year two children.
The charity brings volunteers into the five schools involved with the scheme to read with pupils on a one-to-one basis.
Each pupil is assigned their own mentor who will see them every week for an hourly session of reading.
All mentors receive full training and are CRB checked before they are allowed to visit a child.
The youngsters read a range of books written and published by the organisation which are based on bible stories.
Mick Mellows, of Faith and Football, said: ‘The kids benefit hugely from this scheme.
‘Their reading ability increases and so does their confidence.
‘They really value the fact that someone comes in specially to hear them read.’
Mentors produce regular reports for teachers and parents on their child’s development and the youngsters are often given awards for their achievements.