EFL Week of Action: Fitness for mums & skateboarding refugees among clubs’ community work

EFL Week of Action: Fitness for mums & skateboarding refugees among clubs' community work


Doncaster's Tommy Rowe (right) takes on childminding duties
Doncaster’s Tommy Rowe (right) has three children of his own and was “honoured” to play his part in the EFL’s Week of Action

Football clubs have long been integral parts of the communities they represent. But their impact is not just limited to what happens on the pitch.

Away from matchday, a wide range of initiatives are in place to help in the community – and clubs have been highlighting their work during the English Football League’s Week of Action.

A recent report measuring the Impact of EFL clubs’ work in their community suggests that the 72 clubs and their community organisations created more than £865m of social value across England and Wales during the 2021-22 season.

BBC Sport takes a look at some of the schemes across the EFL.

Getting new mums back to fitness

Hayley Kinnaird and Elle Leggatt are new mums who are looking to get back to their former fitness after recently giving birth.

Their local football club, Doncaster Rovers, are helping them. And the pair take their babies along too.

“I was part of the pilot course,” said Hayley. “I joined when my son was about five-and-a-half months – he’s about seven months now.”

She heard about the sessions at a local fitness group and attends every week.

“It was bit daunting thinking that this was Doncaster Rovers – a football club,” said Elle. “But once you get into the swing of attending the sessions, you’re put at ease because although the baby is your priority, you’re also a priority.”

She describes the sessions as “a good balance between mental health and physical health,” something that Hayley agrees on.

“We go at our own pace and the support’s there if you need help on how to do a certain exercise. It’s been good to have that support network from other mums as well – that’s been really beneficial.”

Their story highlights the experiences of many people around the country who live in the same area as an EFL club running similar schemes in their local community.

“Doncaster is Yorkshire’s second most deprived district, we designed the course to offer something to mums who can’t afford to pay for the baby groups or a session with a personal trainer,” explained Doncaster’s health and wellbeing co-ordinator Lauren Platts.

“Mums soon after birth need very low-impact exercises, and, for some, it’s not safe to exercise so they just come along to enjoy the social aspect. They can take it at their own pace.”

Sometimes the exercise is just a walk round Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium or a session with resistance bands. There is also a mental health midwife who talks to the mums, and regular sessions on nutrition.

“Not a lot of mums have the confidence after giving birth to go and join a gym,” said Lauren, who notes that nearly 600,000 women give birth in the UK each year.

“Everybody here is on the same wavelength – they’ve all had a baby so there’s the mental health side of it. It’s not just the physical aspect of having a baby.”

Doncaster full-back Tommy Rowe said he was “honoured” to be asked to come down and take part. “I have three young children myself,” he said. “Me and my wife know first-hand what these people are going through, especially when we’ve been going through an age of Covid.”

Rowe joined in the session, joking that he felt “a little sore” afterwards, although he was amazed how the babies stayed still and silent on the floor as their mums worked with glute bands.

“Sometimes the hardest bit is to actually go there,” he added. “But this is open to the general public – we want to hear each other’s stories.”

Raising awareness of knife crime

Mark Hughes signs an autograph for a young fan
Bradford City boss Mark Hughes signs an autograph for a young fan

At Bradford City, the mood is more sombre as manager Mark Hughes discusses the Bantams’ local initiative, aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of knife crime.

“It’s a real worry for a lot of communities and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be resolved any time soon,” he said.

Hughes, a former Manchester United player who has managed Wales – as well as six Premier League sides – feels that a club like Bradford is ideally sized to reach into the community.

“We have a lot of reach and when we do things they get noticed,” he said. “So we’re able to highlight this issue and, with our fanbase, we can touch a lot of people. “

Bradford’s initiative is designed to alert youngsters to how situations can get out of hand and how to avoid that. Last year Bradford’s local newspaper ran the story of an eight-year-old caught carrying a blade in school.external-link

“There’s an element that thinks it’s a good idea to be carrying knives. But it can lead to tragedy and catastrophe unfortunately,” said Hughes, who saw at first hand the work Premier League clubs did in the community when he was playing.

“Bradford has poverty and people struggling to make ends meet. It’s important that the club steps up and has an influence.”

Skateboarding to help refugees settle

Sam Vokes and refugees at Wycombe's Week of Action session
Wycombe’s Sam Vokes takes no risks with his skateboarding demo

Wycombe’s former Wales striker Sam Vokes played things safe during the Week of Action with his club’s initiative, and was probably wise to do so.

The League One side have developed a skateboarding hub for the town’s growing refugee population as a way of introducing them to each other, the town and to local people.

“I started off sitting down on a skateboard – I couldn’t quite stand on one,” said Vokes. “In the end I managed to pull myself along while hanging on to the wall.

“When I was young and down the skate park, all my mates had a skateboard and were looking cool. I couldn’t trust myself even standing on one.”

Wycombe reached out to the newly arrived members of the community through the Wycombe Refugee Alliance that was already running a number of sports, including skateboarding.

The club operated it through the local council and had success, so when the money ran out they included it in their Premier League Kicks programme.

“We identified that there was a growing number of refugees coming to High Wycombe, with little to no provision in terms of sport or social opportunities,” said Luke Godfrey, of the Wycombe Wanderers Foundation.

“It can be challenging [to engage with them] because they don’t have many means to communicate with other people outside their immediate families – that makes it even more important that the contacts we have are strong.

“It’s not just the young people who are taking part, when you talk to their mums and dads you can see it helps them to come along and talk to the staff.”

Wycombe now have a professional skateboard coach from Skateboard Academy UK to help people improve their skills.

“It’s more just fun and games to get people comfortable on a skateboard – there’s no set curriculum or targets,” added Godfrey.

The skateboard group have designs on expanding their reach, however. They are learning skateboard maintenance to get the best out of their boards and are looking to plan and produce their own lines of boards and clothing.

Godfrey believes the smaller clubs have a better chance to reach into the local area with their initiatives.

“They are able to have greater face time in the community,” he said. “There isn’t that commercial side beating through everything that is done.

“There’s not a massive financial side of being involved in the community for clubs like us but we still do it – it’s swings and roundabouts.”

Vokes added: “The community is at the heart of a club like Wycombe. I don’t know if they’ll come along on Saturday to watch us, but the main thing is that it’s great to see people from different backgrounds coming together.

“They look like they have a lot of fun when they come down here and they’ve got a great group of friends – from all different backgrounds – which is great for the foundation.”

Other initiatives from EFL’s Week of Action

Hartlepool United organised a bowls club for veterans to help improve their health and wellbeing, with the help of the local armed services.

Northampton Town’s manager Jon Brady and the other first-team coaches have set up NHS health checks, designed to flag early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia for 40-74-year-olds.

Burnley boss Vincent Kompany attended the mental health programme the club run in local schools, which aims to build resilience and wellbeing. The Clarets say they have helped more than 4,000 students struggling with mental health issues in the past three years.

Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore attended one of the club’s anti-racism sessions, which the Owls run in conjunction with local schools.

Ipswich Town centre-back George Edmundson was in attendance – as he often is – at the club’s adult disability football session, having kitted out the team from his own pocket when he found out they were missing the regular Tractor Boys’ uniform.


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