THE NATION’S grassroots football clubs are the heartbeat of the game. They are also a vital part of every local community.
But clubs are suffering. The cost of living crisis means there’s less and less money to go round.
Kit, equipment, league affiliation fees, match subs, referees – it all adds up.
Supporters often go above and beyond to raise money.
Tesco’s community grants have supported thousands of small community projects since 2016, including more than 6,000 schools, over 2,000 sports teams and 2,300 youth organisations.
Programmes like Bags of Help, which used money raised from the carrier bag charge, have supported thousands of local projects and clubs like Mendip Broadwalk FC.
“Grants are massively important to little clubs like ours,” says Andy Williams, club secretary and president of Bristol-based Mendip Broadwalk FC. “Especially in a deprived area of Bristol, because you can’t keep going cap in hand to players and parents – they don’t have the money to spare.”
This summer, Tesco launched its new grant programme Stronger Starts, which is committing a further £5.3million to schools and children’s groups to fund healthy food and activities this year.
Tesco runs the scheme with the help of Groundwork, a charity that works with corporate businesses and the public sector to identify deserving community projects.
“We’ve been working with Tesco for seven years now, making sure their commitment to communities reaches the people who need the help the most,” says Graham Duxbury, chief executive of Groundwork.
“We also have a network of local community workers across the country who are on hand to promote the Stronger Starts programme, to help groups who might be struggling to apply.”
From his living room Andy Williams can see the junior team trophies of Mendip Broadwalk FC proudly on display in a family home on the street where he lives.
“People ask me why I still do it after 20 years,” says 57-year-old Andy. “Seeing the little faces of the junior team players at the end-of-season awards is why. It makes it all worthwhile.”
People are struggling – we do our best to put a smile on their faces
Mendip Broadwalk FC is based in Knowle West, one of Bristol’s most deprived areas. Money is tight here, and there are social issues and gangs. So Tesco’s grant made a real difference.
The club is a focus for the community and an outlet and a haven for youngsters. However, subs and affiliation fees are a challenge for some players and parents.
“People are struggling, so we do our best to put a smile on their faces,” says Andy.
“We don’t pressurise anyone about money. No one is refused to play. We look to help them as best we can.”
The fact that over 5,000 schools and groups, just like Mendip Broadwalk FC, have already applied to Tesco Stronger Starts since its summer launch, shows how much these schemes are needed right now.
“The grants we allocate this year mean we can help over 1 million young people to thrive in thousands of schools, breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and sports clubs, and create positivity across our local communities,” says Christine Heffernan, Tesco group communications director.
Every Tesco store provides information about applicants, with customers able to vote using blue tokens given out at checkouts.
Anyone can apply, including customers and staff. The more detail in the application – particularly how the funds will be used – the better.
Every three months the group that receives the most blue tokens is given a grant of up to £1,500, with the lucky winner invited to the store to receive a cheque and celebrate the moment.
“Our stores have always been at the heart of every community we serve,” says Christine.
“We’re proud that, together, we can help make a difference in our customers’ communities and to their friends and family.”
The supermarket has also teamed up with The Sun’s Footie For All to help identify the local clubs most in need.
The newspaper launched the campaign after charity Sported revealed that 94 per cent of clubs nationwide are struggling and that young players were dropping out because their parents could not cover costs.
“We know there is a demand in many areas of the country for resources to help kids get into football,” says Christine.
“So we felt it was important to team up with The Sun to extend the reach of our Stronger Starts funding to grants that ensure any child can play football if they wish, taking away the worry about paying for subs or kit.”
Clubs like Mendip Broadwalk FC do a vital job in keeping kids off the street, encouraging them to play sport and to get fit, things that can sustain them for life.
The club has also just started a girls’ side for under-sevens (some older girls play in mixed sides). Even better, the under-18s will soon have the chance to play under the senior side’s floodlights.
“There’s a lot of pride in this place,” says Andy. “Sometimes I walk down the road, and players you coached ten years ago come up and have a chat.
“They’re still very fond of the club, even if they’re no longer playing football.”
“It’s incredibly important to us that children aren’t missing out on opportunities to exercise, stay healthy and try out activities or sports because the options they have are limited or they don’t have the financial means,” says Christine.
Every club is a winner with Tesco Stronger Starts.
To find out more, head to tescoplc.com/strongerstarts
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