Achievement Through Football (ATF) has humble beginnings – a simple vision to change the lives of vulnerable young people for the better.
There were just seven participants when Active Essex established the community football project in 2012 to steer hard-to-reach groups and youngsters away from anti-social behaviour. Now, over 200 youngsters receive support through football, mentoring and counselling services. Relationships based on trust have developed in Southend, Basildon, Rochford and Castle Point as the ATF gains momentum.
“By building a sense of community and teaching life skills through sport, we have seen a whole range of positive impacts,” says Stuart Long, ATF Project Coach. “Our training isn’t limited to just football: we have history, art and drama groups, and our staff are far more than just coaches – they are mentors and role models.”
The project works with councils, schools, and the probation service to help young people involved in the criminal justice system and those excluded from mainstream education. Outcomes range from a fall in anti-social behaviour, a rise in volunteering, a better understanding of community needs, and improved employability skills.
One participant, Dion Donovan, 23, admits he “got in with the wrong crowd” in the past and became drug-dependent. He said: “I am a care-leaver and struggled with childhood issues. I lost my way but the weekly sport sessions helped me with anger management and fitness. I feel calmer, focused, confident and stronger.”
Another, Travis Chinnock, 19, had been expelled from school and also suffered from drug problems. But he heard about the project and transformed his life. He said: “I had lost my way and needed a new opportunity and a fresh start, and the ATF really helped improve my confidence and I now really want to study an apprenticeship.”
Essex Local Delivery Pilot is now playing a key role as the ATF seeks to support single-parent families and the Roma community across the county.
Stuart added: “It’s fantastic being part of the Pilot and to receive such great recognition and financial support. We work in some of the most deprived areas of the country and we’ve got single parents who find it difficult just getting by, let alone exercising, which doesn’t really come on their agenda. We’re trying to engage with them and provide fun multi-sport activities and childcare at the same time, just so provide them with some positive headspace. We’re also building community relationships with parents within the Roma community, after slowly building trust with their children over time. Achieving success on both these fronts will be amazing.”
For more information about the ATF, visit https://achievementthroughfootball.org