Foundation works with ex-offenders and young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. As well as accommodation based support, Foundation works with these groups through floating support to housed individuals and also to those who are on waiting lists for housing – of which, unfortunately, there are many. One of the primary considerations for all of these customers, no matter their situation, is to engage them in social inclusion activities. For some customers this is achieved through regular football training sessions.
Football is a physical, contact sport that offers a huge amount of value across many different support needs. Involvement in football training and teams, gives our customers the opportunity to improve their physical and mental wellbeing, break isolation and improve communication. The football teams also have access to a wide range of events and tournaments, positively impacting on raised aspirations and improving life chances.

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However, as in the professional game, the sport can also invoke challenging behaviours as passions run high. Our target group can be a difficult one and managing the risks is crucial. Over the past few months there have been incidents and outbreaks of aggression amongst the Foundation Leeds customer football teams. This creates huge concerns for staff and customers and needs to be addressed with a strategy put in place.
The Leeds team are aiming to tackle this issue by working collaboratively with other local support agencies that offer football training to similar customer groups. Representatives from Leeds United Foundation, Hamara and Foundation Leeds are having meetings to discuss safety standards at football sessions. They will also discuss how to best act as a safety net for those at risk of offending or/and aggressive behaviour that are not currently with any agency. They hope that by working together they can build skills, resources and strategies that will prevent aggression and violence occurring during training sessions.
The Foundation staff that run the football sessions, have a strong strategy in place for when incidents do arise. Most incidents occur late on in the sessions when players are tired and tempers flare easily. Staff monitor and cut sessions short accordingly. Bans are issued to those who display any violent behaviour, presenting a strong message that the sessions have to hold a safe environment for all – a message that the vast majority of customers vehemently agree with and uphold. The staff work together with their customers to invoke a culture of sportsmanship and togetherness and encourage participants to recognise that when an incident occurs, it does so in the context of a passionate contact sport. It is the customers who want to continue to play as a team and train regularly, that lead in dissuading their “mates” from violent or aggressive behaviour.

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However, the Foundation Leeds team are keen to recognise that these incidents can also be a way to address support issues for people who may feel they have no support requirements:

‘We have examples of customers going through football sessions, being violent or inappropriate and following staff intervention, agreeing to discuss support needs and signing up for support, where previously they didn’t believe they needed any. One of these young men is now on our floating support service and is on the accommodation waiting list. Another young man gained Leeds City Council accommodation after going through our floating and stock system. We have examples of others attending triage. The sessions act as a safety net for many. Through these football sessions, we make a difference and that is the main thing.’

Our Leeds staff are looking for sponsors for the football teams. They need additional funds for mini-bus hire as they hope to take part in regular, advanced training with other homeless football teams in the North East. If you are able to help fund these opportunities please contact our Communications and Campaign Manager, Aissa Gallie: