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One year of Premier League Kicks

It is now a year since Wolves Foundation relaunched their Premier League Kicks project for young people from across the city, which has now been up and running and ‘bringing communities together’ for the best part of a decade.

Wolves chairman Jeff Shi, Foundation ambassadors Karl Henry and S-X and several trustees joined Kicks participants at Aldersley this time 12 months ago to celebrate more than £700,000 of new funding secured from the Premier League.

What a difference a year makes!

Kicks, however, has continued to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic, with virtual activities during lockdown including online FIFA competitions and a Zoom call for participants with Wolves striker – and former Kicks attendee – Niall Ennis.

More recently, when restrictions were eased, risk assessments and trial sessions were held before socially-distanced and Covid-compliant ‘Kicks in the Park’ footgolf and head tennis activities returned.

Kicks sessions are now running on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings with Mini-Kicks on Saturday mornings.

Kicks is a project which uses football to bring communities together and engage with young people, many of whom who have previously been difficult to reach, and guiding them towards a range of healthy and constructive activities.

And now, a new targeted activity has grown out of the project, in which young people from across Wolverhampton are being encouraged to ‘Stay Onside’ thanks to a new initiative.

The Stay Onside project will involve staff acting as mentors and providing one-to-one or group support to engage some of the most vulnerable young people from the city.

Linked to the successful Premier League Kicks programme, Stay Onside has been funded by the Premier League and BBC Children In Need and will see the Foundation working with partners from across the city, including West Midlands Police and the City of Wolverhampton Council.

“Our Kicks programme has always been really successful in engaging with young people and providing positive activities for them to get involved in,” says Lee Smith, senior operations manager with Wolves Foundation.

“The Stay Onside programme takes that to another level, in the sense that we can look towards working through any issues the young person may have, and helping them make sustained positive changes to their lives.

“We might identify someone from Kicks who we feel needs extra support, or someone who has perhaps been involved in something negative at a session, and via youth work resolve those issues and help them move forward.

“As well as via Kicks, we can also work with young people who have been referred by other agencies, such as West Midlands Police, Youth Offending Teams (YOT) or Pupil Referral Units (PRU).

“One of the real positives of the project is that we can work with the young person in a more informal environment and one where they feel comfortable enough to build up that level of trust which is so important.

“Just as examples, we have already engaged with a young person during lockdown via an online game of FIFA, where they felt really comfortable to open up and talk, and also before lockdown we held a group football session at our Aldersley Arena with a group of Eastern European youngsters who had been struggling to settle at school.

“Moving forward, our plan is to identify more young people from other projects who may benefit from Stay Onside and take more referrals form partners, just to find those who will really benefit from the mentoring and support.”

The wide-ranging aims of Stay Onside include supporting young people who are at risk of being involved in violent crime, helping those who have been involved in trauma or exploitation, and creating a safe space environment so that the youngsters can be empowered to make positive changes to their lives.

Young people can be referred into the Stay Onside project having previously attended Kicks, or from other venues including Pupil Referral Units, The Way Youth Zone, or partner organisations such as West Midlands Police, St Giles Trust or by the Schools Inclusion Officer with the City of Wolverhampton Council.

The West Midlands Police representative on the steering group which Lee chairs is Diane Shepherd, Young Persons Officer with Wolverhampton Partnership Team.

Diane says: “We are delighted with the partnership within the city that has helped make Kicks so successful and are looking forward to playing a part in the development of Stay Onside.

“On the easing of the pandemic lockdown restrictions we saw a marked increase in the number of reported anti-social behaviour incidents involving young people, making the Foundation’s work in the local area even more important.

“Prior to lockdown, the Foundation’s Kicks sessions act as an early intervention for many vulnerable young people in the community, offering a safe place to go and socialise.

“Kicks will also offer an opportunity for staff to identify any young people who have been negatively impacted by the lockdown, and in the same way we will be able to work together to recognise who might be able to benefit from the additional support provided by Stay Onside.”

*For more information please contact Luke Shearing on (01902) 828366 or email lukeshearing@wolves.co.uk