City of Liverpool
Welcome through Football
Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are re-located to Liverpool each year which can present many complex challenges as they attempt to adapt to living in a new and unfamiliar area, learn a new language and attempt to integrate into mainstream society. Everton in the Communities ‘Welcome through Football’ project uses football as an engagement tool to help break down cultural barriers; creating a safe and welcoming environment for refugees and asylum seekers to play football together.
The project delivers weekly football training sessions, football competitions for adult (18+) refugee’s and asylum seekers at EitC’s purpose-built Peoples Hub facility in L4. EitC utilises the power of football to break down cultural, economic and social barriers to help support vulnerable individuals to improve their confidence, social capital and self- efficacy whist providing specialist support for any underlying issues health, wellbeing or social care needs.
The pan European project is coordinated by the European Football Development Network (EFDN) and is funded by the UEFA foundation with support locally provided by the housing association Bed Space.
In terms of resource implications, a significant number of project participants had no sports kit. This hindered their participation and enjoyment of the sessions. Therefore Everton in the Communities addressed this thanks to kind donations from Everton Football Club and local church groups that run football teams.
The Project’s benefits for asylum seekers were:
– Social: EitC´s main objective with this project was helping refugees and asylum seekers to be integrated into society. As a consequence of networking with British people and with other immigrants, the asylum seekers started organising football during the weekends by themselves.
– EitC signposted 12 of its participants to play in local mainstream amateur football leagues.
-EitC supported 3 refugee participants to undertake professional football and refereeing qualifications. These individuals used these skills in volunteer and mentor capacities to support delivery on the programme.
The participants refugees and migrants ages ranged from 16 to 45; approximately 65% were younger than the 30 years old limit. The majority of participants reside in the Kensington and Toxteth council wards; two of the most deprived local authority neighbourhoods in the UK.
Jacob Viera is an impactful case study for this project with his journey being documented in the Independent newspaper and BBC website: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news-and-comment/everton-news-refugee-jacob-vieira-kenya-human-side-english-football-a7695916.html
– Physical: Practising football weekly helped asylum seekers to keep fit.
– Social: Social inclusion was a big component of the project as it allowed participants to get to know people from different backgrounds and cultures better, break down cultural barriers and make new social support networks and friendships.
– Psychological: The main psychological effect of the program is the confidence among its participants. “Football gives empowerment, encouragement, ability to know that we can do things by ourselves. It enables us to take another step. It opens doors that were previously closed by the society”, stated one of the program participants.
– Pride in representing the club at football tournaments. EitC organised a number of competitive football competitions and tournaments for the Welcome through football participants to enter into. This enabled participants to meet other refugees from other teams and share experiences with like-minded individuals.
To date, ‘Welcome through Football’ has engaged 200 plus individuals
There were a number of changes that had to be implemented into the project including:
– The days and times of the football sessions had to be changed in order to accommodate the project participants who had taken up educational courses. As sometimes timings clashed between football sessions and education sessions the decision was made by the project delivery team to be flexible and change the day and time of sessions to ensure participants could access both services.
– Based on feedback from participants it was found that sometimes the English weather was difficult to adjust to when it was particularly cold. Therefore alternative options were provided when the weather wasn’t too pleasant (rain, wind, etc) as sometimes the group trained indoors or had more time spent indoors at the Everton in the Community Hub to talk with project and partner staff about where each individual were up to; allowing for more relationship building to take place.
One of the main strengths of the programme was providing a safe and welcoming environment at football training sessions that enabled participants to feel relaxed and at ease. This made a significant contribution in ensuring the project achieved high retention rates with participants. Another strength of the project was the quality of partnership developed with ‘Bed Space’ who played a key role in ensuring participants had their lifestyles related issues supported, such as English, Maths, health and social care.
Timekeeping from the project participants was an issue. To overcome this, Everton in the Communities arranged a free pick up service via ‘Bed Space’ .
The project experienced some incidences of conflict arises between players from different countries and even different regions of the same country at times. Even though Everton in the Communities intervened on numerous occasions and this something the project delivery team have been in a position to closely monitor by ensuring each participant adheres to a code of conduct that they are had to sign and agree to be accountable against.
Involvement in EitC’s ‘Welcome through Football’ project has benefitted participants in a multitude of ways as detailed above. For those refused asylum, or going through the appeals process, they found it difficult to engage during the sessions at times. Their solution was to offer encouragement, and to provide a listening ear to those who wanted to talk things through. Everton in the Communities found that the football sessions also provide a form of escape from whatever situation the participant is facing.
Recommendations for those organisations looking to replicate the programme:
– Don’t be afraid to make changes to the timetable for the benefit of the participants.
– Do intervene proportionately when conflict arises.
– Do work in a joined-up way with external organisations and collaborate with different agencies for the over-arching aim of benefits of the participants.
– Work collaboratively with project participants to establish a code of conduct/ behaviour for them to aware of and adhere to.