City Football clubs to mentor pupils hit hardest by pandemic

Young people hit hardest by the pandemic are being offered mental health and wellbeing support by Stoke City FC, Port Vale FC and Staffordshire University to help them stay engaged in education so they can catch up on lost learning and raise their aspirations.

Through the Government’s Opportunity Areas programme, Stoke City, Port Vale and Blackpool Football Clubs are working with pupils aged 11 to 19 who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or at risk of falling out of education, employment or training.

These schemes will give young people a way to talk through their anxieties and fears with trained mentors in one-to-one sessions at school and college, or online during the period of national restrictions, as part of the support on offer. They will help them find ways to overcome any obstacles, build their confidence and resilience so they are ready to learn and do not fall behind. Many of these pupils are vulnerable and can still attend school along with key worker children.

Funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool Opportunity Areas, the pastoral support is being delivered through the football club’s community teams, building on their existing outreach work which has made them a recognised brand in their community. Each football club is working with another in a different area to set up similar mentoring schemes and help even more young people.

Minister for the Opportunity Areas Michelle Donelan said: “Our focus throughout the pandemic has been to protect the most vulnerable in our society, creating new opportunities that secure their future success in spite of the challenges we face as a country.

“It is fantastic to see investment from our Opportunity Areas programme benefitting these schemes in Stoke-on-Trent and Blackpool, supporting young people’s mental health and wellbeing so they are ready to catch up on lost learning and do not fall behind.

“By sharing their resources and expertise with clubs in Fleetwood, Rotherham and Lincoln, even more secondary pupils can build life skills like confidence and resilience to tackle obstacles and thrive.”

During the period of national restrictions, mentoring is happening face-to-face or online, ensuring the most vulnerable continue to get the support they need whether learning at home or school.

Blackpool Football Club Community Trust (BFCCT) is broadening its existing mental health, resilience and mentoring programme and extending it to every secondary school in the town working with as many pupils as need help. The Opportunity Area funding has enabled BFCCT to employ another three full time ‘high school hub officers’ – taking its team to five – to spend two days a week in all eight mainstream secondary schools in the town, deliver the Premier League Inspires programme on mental health and resilience and provide one-to-one support for the young people who need it the most. Some of the support has gone online during the national lockdown restrictions. The club acts as a single point of contact for referrals from schools, assesses each pupil’s needs and works with schools, pupils and their families to identify the most appropriate support, reviewing progress against individual goals.

The club is providing online training to two mentors at Fleetwood Town as well as sharing resources to help them identify and support around 75 pupils at Fleetwood High School.

Selina Hayes, Head of Education and Employability at Blackpool Football Club Community Trust, said:

“The High School Hub programme has been a long-term ambition of ours and it is fantastic to have been able to roll the programme out with the support of the Opportunity Area.

“Having mentors in every school allows us to provide regular support for the most vulnerable pupils, not only to achieve academically, but to become much more confident and ambitious individuals ready to progress through education and life.”

Chair of the Blackpool Opportunity Area, Graham Cowley, added:

“At a time of unprecedented challenges for our most vulnerable young people, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to support Blackpool FC Community Trust to extend their mentoring programme. The work will benefit young people along the Fylde Coast through an innovative partnership with Fleetwood Town FC, providing much needed help to resume studies.”

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