How Street Football Wales have tackled social isolation and Covid-19
The charity rely on face to face contact with players so have had to adapt in the last year
STREET Football Wales are looking forward to getting back on the pitch after a “tough” 12 months dealing with the pandemic.
The Cardiff-based charity aim to use football to create positive social change in Wales. They deliver drop-in football sessions for disadvantaged and socially excluded individuals dealing with issues such as substance misuse, homelessness and mental health.
However, lockdown has forced them to take all of their activity online, which has proved a challenge.
“The lack of face to face contact is really tough,” says Scott Jeynes, Project Manager at Street Football Wales. “We’ve got people going through really difficult times who may not be the most accessible by phone but would come to the sessions and open up to people there.
“Having those conversations over the phone are not the same so we have lost our ability to have that human connection with some people. Street Football Wales is more than football, it’s a community that helps people feel part of something and that’s not been able to exist in quite the same way.”
Nonetheless, the charity have adapted and found ways to keep in touch with players and ensure that they are being looked out for. There is a weekly blog on their website, while this month players and volunteers have submitted questions for patron and former Welsh international footballer Loren Dykes to answer.
“Not all of our beneficiaries – for example those who are homeless – have access to digital inclusion or they have a very limited understanding of something like Zoom,” Jeynes says. “So it was tough to start that process to begin with. But now we have weekly video calls, WhatsApp groups and Zoom quizzes that keep everyone going.
“We’ve found that individual messages to players like ‘how are you doing today?’ is the best method rather than just a blanket message to everybody.”
Like all football clubs and groups around the country, Street Football Wales have been longing for the sport to be allowed to return at grassroots level and that day is hopefully just around the corner.
The charity have planned for multiple scenarios and obstacles, with safety at the forefront of their minds.
“After each Welsh Government announcement we have been updating our return to play plan accordingly,” says Jeynes. “Players will have to agree to various protocols like social distancing, having their temperature checked and a Covid questionnaire which asks about symptoms.
“All the kit will be washed separately, there will be no swapping of bibs, everything we’re doing is to minimise the risk of transmission as much as we can.”
The return of football will also represent new opportunities for Street Football Wales, who rebranded in January. In addition to sessions in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport, they are introducing a group in Merthyr as well as one for women.
While they are currently funded by Sport Wales and the National Lottery, the charity are keen to increase their income streams over the next few months. This means they are on the lookout for Welsh corporate sponsorship for the first time. Their long-term goal is to be self-sufficient.
The charity hope to be able to take a team to the European Life Goals Games in Utrecht in September, before the Homeless World Cup’s scheduled return in 2022.
The tournament, which has been running annually since 2003, was hosted in Cardiff’s Bute Park in 2019 and proved incredibly successful. 500 players from 48 countries competed and tens of thousands of spectators attended.
“It’s been growing for the last few years and I can only see it getting bigger,” Jeynes says of the Homeless World Cup. “It’s one of those events that is hard to describe unless you’ve been. It’s a carnival atmosphere and the standard of football is very good. There’s fantastic team spirit on show and the level of inclusion is great to see.”
To get involved with Street Football Wales through volunteering or sponsorship, visit www.streetfootballwales.com