At this year's FSF awards we're instituting a new category to recognise the efforts of non-league clubs and their supporters who, despite huge challenges and tight budgets, ensure the survival of the game outside the professional leagues. In the first half of a two-part blog, Maria Horner introduces three of this year’s nominees…
Hartlepool United FC
The club has an active community foundation offering sporting activities and works with Forces veterans to tackle social exclusion and other organisations to address mental health issues. Hartlepool United Disabled Supporters’ Association was founded in November 2001 and works closely with the club.
HUDSA’s Neil Appleyard says: "Our aim was to provide a liaison between the fans with special needs and the football club and improve their match day experience. Over the years we have also diversified and provide respite and short break holidays not only for our group but the town of Hartlepool and surrounding areas. As well as this we run a special needs disco for 50 weeks of the year.
"We have great links with our local authority and since our inception the Association has had wonderful support from the people of the town.
"It shows how the group has captured peoples’ imagination. It's so nice to walk around town and see people and talking to them about the group, the look on peoples’ faces when they attend our weekly disco; the smiles and the interaction is wonderful.
"When I go to games it’s an amazing feeling to see so many people from the disco attending the matches it can take quite a time to get to my seat after chatting to people."
The supporters and the club have been at the forefront of providing some of the best service for fans with different needs. After fundraising the Disabled Supporters Association (DSA) has provided a specialist wheelchair viewing platform for fans. The DSA and the club are also developing an audio descriptive service for matches. The club community foundation provides an education programme and delivers health and wellbeing projects in local schools.
The club also has an active Disability Liaison Officer (DLO), Kerry Evans who says: "I started my role of voluntary DLO in January 2018, and it was apparent very quickly what a special club Wrexham AFC is, being a fan owned club that is run mainly by volunteers, I think makes us unique.
"I felt I had a lot to offer to the role as I have been a full- time wheelchair user for 13 years and understand the everyday struggles disabled people can face, so I started the role with a real passion to make a difference. Smaller projects quickly became much bigger and we have recently received an award for our stadium being Autism Friendly, the first club in Wales.
"I always felt I was missing out on not being able to attend away days on our official club transport, so I have got wheelchair accessible away travel running this season; and have personally committed to raise the funds to continue the service as it runs at a considerable loss.
"I never realised just how rewarding this job would be. Seeing the impact I am having on people’s lives is absolutely amazing, and I love the role I play at Wrexham AFC."
Curzon Ashton FC
Curzon Ashton attract crowds of around 400 but that hasn’t stopped them appointing a Community Officer, Andy Cheshire, who says: "Over the past year we’ve engaged with a range of community groups and have been awarded the Volunteering in Action certificate; the first organisation in Tameside to gain this award for our commitment to our volunteers.
The club has also completed the process for Tameside Stadium to be an accredited learning centre and has also created the Curzon Ashton Community Foundation.
"We have developed projects for refugees and asylum seekers; inclusive football with onsite counselling services and information, advice and guidance delivered in partnership with a local community interest company , Infinity Initiatives.
"For military veterans we run an accredited horticultural course, we’ve formed a football team and a new multi-sports project that sees military veterans become peer mentors for local homeless young adults. Looked after children benefit from an accredited independent living certificate with participants learning how to cook, budget and keep a tidy home. Older adults have a table tennis club, walking football and tai chi and regularly more than eighty local young people engage in a Friday Night Project.
"We have delivered more than four inclusive football tournaments to celebrate cultural diversity in our community and this year will open our doors on Christmas Day for the second consecutive year to feed those who are marginalised and isolated. We are also providing a free three-course meal to 80 over-50’s just before Christmas this year.
"All our work is delivered in partnership with a range of grassroots and not for profit organisations in Tameside and we value the commitment of our supporters and volunteers in making our projects a success."
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