After a two week break from the stadium, to spend some much needed time with my young family, I’d like to start this year’s column by wishing everyone in Blackpool and linked to our football club a very happy new year. Let’s hope 2021 proves to be a safe and prosperous year for all, that hopefully sees us get back to some form of normality very soon.
My break has also given me time to reflect on 2020 and whilst the year was certainly the most challenging of my career, we also had some extremely successful periods which saw a number of new provisions developed, existing programmes sustained and most importantly no need to make any redundancies or cuts to our services, despite the financial and operational difficulties the pandemic caused, meaning we can continue to support our community.
This hasn’t been the case at every football club charity and a large amount of this was possible here due to the continuous challenge our board of trustees maintain in making sure strict governance and a strong level of charitable security exist at all times, long before the issues of 2020, which has allowed us to build financial reserves, a very strong management structure and a fantastic delivery team.
We have also built some great partnerships, which have allowed us to access significant amounts of funding and also allowed us to diversify our provisions this past year. Due to having a strong understanding of the needs of our community, we have been able to keep all staff working and haven’t utilised the furlough scheme since August.
Some of our more significant successes this year have included;
- Record numbers of students enrolled onto our BFC Sports College this year, with almost 100 students now studying BTEC and Degree programmes with us on a full time basis.
- National leader on recruitment and delivery of Autumn NCS with 471 young people completing the digital programme. The second highest had 250.
- Developed a whole new strand of work in Community Cohesion, that focuses on youth work and mentoring young people who are at risk of engaging in crime.
- Developed a whole new strand of work with primary schools, focused on PHSE (Personal, Health and Social Education), which we hope will expand even further in 2021.
- Delivered an amazing Christmas Campaign, raising more than £82,000 to make sure all children receive a gift on Christmas Day.
Despite being off for Christmas, a number of us had been working through the new restrictions and had planned for Blackpool being in Tier 4 and what that meant to us.
It would of meant we could continue most of our services. However with the Prime Ministers announcement on Monday evening, we now find ourselves in another full national lockdown, which changes things significantly.
We have had to close the offices down and all delivery spaces at Bloomfield Road and ask all staff to resume working from home, which for our work is very difficult to do, but at this time is the right thing.
It also means we have this week now had to review all our services, contact funders and sort through staffs personal circumstances, to understand what we can and cannot do for the next six – twelve weeks.
We will have to postpone all of our physical activity sessions, that take place face-to-face, but many of these groups; including sporting memories, vets, healthy hearts, PL Kicks will be offered virtual groups, to remain in contact. Our mental health Football sessions, GetSet2Go becomes GetSet2Talk again and will now meet virtually too.
Our BFC Sports College now face the tough task of receiving their education virtually. Our team have made sure every student has a laptop at home, or we have sent them home with one of ours and our teachers will continue a normal timetable, educating the students with virtual classrooms in person, not just setting them work to do themselves each day. We are also developing a host of ways to keep the students engaged, with group sessions and professional workshops from ex pro footballers and other members of the profession that can support students to see opportunities to work in Football.
We have unfortunately had to postpone the start of our next Traineeship programmes, for sixteen-to-twenty four year olds because we cannot get them into work placements, if all but essential shops and businesses are closed. We had already signed ten young people to start their course in February and losing this provision not only hampers the young peoples progression into work, it causes a large financial loss for the Charity.
We are currently working with local primary schools to understand how/if we can still support them with our PL Primary Stars programme, Fit2Go and Unstoppable programmes and similar with secondary schools with our PL Inspires and our new mental health provisions.
If the schools continue to need our support, staff will attend, either in person or virtually.
Our Disability Inclusion team will also be digitising many of their sessions to keep in touch over this period for adults and we are working through plans to maintain activity sessions for our younger participants, which can continue in person.
We are allowed to continue our youth work services, including Tower Above, which are needed now, more than ever before. So staff will meet their young people one-to-one and continue to support them through their needs and issues and similar for our Divert, United Together and Digital Youth work programmes.
Our tackling isolation programme, Pool Together now becomes even more important. This will see staff make phone calls, door step visits and set up virtual groups for those most isolated and shielding, to try to make sure they have some contact with the outside world and maintain a willingness to reengage in programmes, once the lockdown is lifted.
Hopefully it will be as close to the PM’s predication of late February as possible.
I think this new lockdown has taken us all by surprise, when before Christmas there was no talk on a new variant and all the positive news about vaccinations was being sent out.
We as Blackpool FC Community Trust will now adapt and develop as many ways as possible to support our Community and try to help keep peoples spirits high.