Rochdale AFC Community Trust honoured at awards ceremony

Date published: 28 May 2024

Rochdale AFC Community Trust is celebrating its second national award win, after picking up the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Award (non-Premier League) at a glittering awards ceremony in London last week.

The Football Business Awards 2024, held at The Brewery in central London, recognise and reward achievement by the teams behind the scenes that facilitate sporting excellence and endeavours.

Winners this year included Birmingham City, Liverpool, Luton Town, The Arsenal Invincibles, Brentford, Argyle Community Trust, Brighton, Everton in the Community and Manchester City, alongside agencies KSS Design, Stadion and Xero.

Rochdale AFC Community Trust was up against other clubs and football organisations in their category, including Bristol Rovers, LaLiga, The PFA, Professional Game Match Officials, The FA and Proud Baggies in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Category, following their work with refugees and the Hope Football programme.

Dale’s official charity was crowned the winner, finishing ahead of PGMOL (bronze) and The FA (silver) with the judges commenting: “The judges loved Hope Football – calling it a fantastic initiative and a catalyst in bringing together multiple stakeholders to support some of the most marginalised groups.

“They said it has been a real game changer in people’s lives and is clearly breaking down barriers with strong community cohesion. An Innovative and ground-breaking project!”

Ryan Bradley, Community Director at Rochdale AFC Community Trust, commented: “EDI underpins everything we do at Rochdale AFC Community Trust, but through a dedicated programme designed for refugees and people seeking sanctuary, Rochdale AFC Community Trust have used best practice and positive action to challenge long-held perceptions.

“Using football as the hammer, Rochdale AFC have broken barriers and laid a new path for people to follow when it comes to meaningful, impactful work across equality, diversity and inclusivity.

“We still have a lot of work to do in this field and we won’t shy away from the challenges we face in making the Crown Oil Arena and the Borough of Rochdale a better place to live, work and play.”

The award focuses on the Rochdale AFC Hope Football initiative, which is a project born from a multi-agency approach to welcoming refugees to Rochdale.

Rochdale borough was identified by GM/central Government as a priority resettlement area for refugees, and Rochdale AFC was asked to be a part of the 'Welcome' plan.

Liz Cotterill, former Inclusion Coordinator at Rochdale AFC Community Trust, now working with Rochdale Council as Asylum & Refugee Employment & Training Officer, said: “We undertook a period of community consultation, whereby we visited the shared accommodation and groups established by other providers to speak directly to refugees on what they wanted in order to feel welcome.

“The one phrase that was commonly mentioned was: 'one day, I hope to play football again'. Henceforth, 'Hope Football' was born. A session that meant they no longer had to 'hope' for something so simple.

“The sessions had to be adapted – things like kit had to be provided to ensure people were on an even footing and safe to take part. We set up a boot bank, asking first team players and academy teams to donate boots, trainers and kit to the project.

“With only £5 per day to live on, we relied on our reserves to pay for pitch hire and asked existing staff to support where possible so we could offer the session for free.

“The participants were arriving hungry, a lot of the time with dependents. The session therefore had to be more than just football. We sign posted to our existing foodbank, welfare support and other services but we applied for and secured funding to feed participants and families before the session.

“We were also able to purchase them their very own kit – based on the 1997/98 RAFC kit – the year national refugee week was established. This was key in ensuring that the participants took ownership and felt a part of the club and not a dependent.

“We were worried that the programme would be a slow burner – how wrong we were! In the first three weeks of delivery, we engaged 27 refugees and people seeking sanctuary. Numbers grew week on week and we now have over 83 registered participants, with an average weekly attendance of 20-30 players. Players have been drawn from 19 different nationalities.

“Players of all standards are welcome, from beginners to the likes of Haitham, a 27-year-old from Iran who was playing for his regional team on the national pathway when conflict broke out. Through Hope football, Haitham now has the hope of playing in the refugee world cup."

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