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Access to Sports: How a Finsbury Park charity that gives Hackney kids football coaching is turning young lives around

PUBLISHED: 13:55 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:58 04 August 2017

An Access to Sports 'Girls Get Active' summer camp dance and cheerleading session at Stoke Newington School. Picture: Polly Hancock

An Access to Sports 'Girls Get Active' summer camp dance and cheerleading session at Stoke Newington School. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

“Here in Hackney, you can easily go from 16 to prison. But by coming here, you allow the kids to have positivity. You can show them the success and give them an opportunity.”

An Access to Sports 'Girls Get Active' summer camp dance and cheerleading session at Stoke Newington School. Picture: Polly HancockAn Access to Sports 'Girls Get Active' summer camp dance and cheerleading session at Stoke Newington School. Picture: Polly Hancock

Football coach Wade Lindo is talking about Access to Sports. It’s a Finsbury Park charity that works across Hackney and beyond, using sport to develop young people’s confidence and skills outside the classroom.

Access to Sports is a name you’re about to hear a lot more of. That’s because Cllr Soraya Adejare, the new Speaker of Hackney, picked it as one of three causes she’s hoping to give thousands of pounds through a year of fundraising.

In years gone by, Alzheimer’s, homelessness and migrant support have all been on the receiving end of support from the borough’s speaker – the ceremonial figurehead who represents Hackney at civic events. But this year, Cllr Soraya Adejare is nailing her colours to the mast, focusing her fundraising efforts on charities that help Hackney’s kids.

It’s no big surprise from the councillor who told the Gazette last month the Hackney of her own childhood had been an “embarrassment” because of its lack of opportunities for young people.

An Access to Sports fun day at Millfields Park. Picture: John Mackinnon/Access to SportsAn Access to Sports fun day at Millfields Park. Picture: John Mackinnon/Access to Sports

Founded in 2001 with one full-time member of staff, Access to Sports now employs 14, and works across Hackney, Islington and Haringey. It still hopes to expand, doing more work in Clapton, and currently offers up to 70 free sessions a week.

Cllr Adejare said: “What impressed me was hearing from adults who attended sessions as young people and had gone on to volunteer for the organisation.

“At the same time they were being provided with scope to gain coaching qualifications – and, subsequently, employed by Access to Sports.” All the people she spoke to said costs were a barrier to them getting involved with sports elsewhere.

Ruby Margetts, 20, started volunteering at 14 and is now a project support worker, organising coaches and running sessions and finding out what sessions kids actually want.

"I wasn’t great at academics at school. Here I found I had skills I wasn’t developing there"

Ruby Margetts, 20

She said: “I wasn’t great at academics at school but here I found I had skills I wasn’t developing there.”

In particular, she says, volunteering and employment have taught her to adapt.

“You have to have different ideas and approaches,” she said. “You can deliver the best session in one area but it might not work in another area.”

Right now she’s working at an all-girls multi-sport summer camp at Stoke Newington School. And she admits: “Girls at school can be very cliquey but when they come here they don’t have to worry about who’s at the session.”

Coach Ruby Margetts, who progressed through Access to Sports as a volunteer and now works there. Picture: Polly HancockCoach Ruby Margetts, who progressed through Access to Sports as a volunteer and now works there. Picture: Polly Hancock

Giving kids a way to learn and develop can boost their confidence when they return to school, she added: “They leave here with that mindset – that if they work harder at school they can achieve.” She also enjoys giving kids opportunities they wouldn’t get in school, like learning archery.

Wade tells the Gazette many coaches who are trained up through Access to Sports go on to work for other clubs – but says for him, it’s more satisfying to stay put and give back to the grassroots programme he benefited from.

The sessions are run professionally where possible.

“Some kids just want to have a kickabout, but we try and run sessions to develop them mentally and physically,” says Shaheed Miah, a football coach.

Cllr Soraya Adejare. Picture: Hackney CouncilCllr Soraya Adejare. Picture: Hackney Council

It’s obviously paying off, with some kids going on to play in other local leagues and at the London Games.

The project has big ambitions to deliver more, and Cllr Adejare hopes her support can help that happen. “My ultimate aim is to help raise their profiles and gain wider recognition for the work they are doing,” she said.

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