The Change Centre in Dundee is changing lives of players in the community through football and connection. Kirsty, who was a Team Scotland player at the Street Soccer Nations Cup, believes that finding a sense of purpose through engaging with Street Soccer programmes, has changed her life forever.
After playing football competitively for many years, Kirsty was still trying to find a way to fit football in to her life to help ease some of the ongoing pressures with her mental health.
“I had recently experienced some time in hospital dealing with my mental health and got speaking to a student nurse who had spotted my coping mechanism in the garden a number of times. I always felt at ease kicking a ball off a wall and we started to discuss how I was struggling with finding a purpose and where I was fitting in to society. She then told me about Street Soccer in Dundee.”
She highlights that she would have never had predicted the impact that the programmes would have had, after dragging herself through the doors of the Change Centre last July.
“I had been putting it off for weeks and I felt I had been too nervous and anxious. When I finally managed to get myself here with my mental health nurse, I was so anxious that like I could barely say my own name and just look at us now!
It usually takes me a while to settle in to new places, but I think there’s something about this place. There’s no stress, there’s no expectations or anything. If you’re having a terrible day, you can come in here and nobody’s going to judge you and you’ll get support. And same goes for if you’re having a great day, it’s a good place to be because there’s so many positive people in here – the whole pace itself is just so welcoming.”
Kirsty notes that she immediately felt the positive impact of the sessions, after throwing herself directly in to the drop-ins. The centre acts as a multi-purpose social hub and she reiterates like many others have, that it often feels like ‘Dundee’s biggest living-room.’
“I think the biggest challenge is getting yourself out of bed and here for the first time. Within five minutes of being here, I know I’ve made the right decision and you’re off to a good start.
I come here and it has given me a new lease of life. There are always so many opportunities and there’s no pressure, it’s very supportive and it’s like ‘well, it’s on your time, it’s if you want to do it, you can and we’ll support you all the way.’
Nine months in to her Street Soccer journey, Kirsty is now a regular at sessions across the week at the Change Centre. She has formed new friendships and sees Street Soccer’s women’s only programme, Street45, as both inspiring and exciting.
“The programme is full of choice. It’s empowering. We’re not here for the football really, it’s more about women supporting women and it’s really special. For most of us, our paths might have never crossed if it wasn’t for Street Soccer and it really helps break down barriers and build up new skills.
I have a history of playing football, but some of the women here had never kicked a ball before and their development both on and off the pitch is amazing. It makes me smile every single week.”
Kirsty points to the fact that despite football being her main passion, helping some of her team-mates find new skills in other activities has been just as rewarding.
“The most enjoyable thing about a Tuesday morning is coming in and seeing week on week, he progress that they’ve made. I take a lot of fulfilment in some of the other players finding new passions.
I grew up in a small coastal town in Fife, so I didn’t really have much exposure to the kind of struggles that some of these women, who are now my friends, have faced. We all have different stories. We all have different backgrounds but when were here, none of that matters. We’re all players here. These experiences have certainly made me a better person.”
A real highlight for Kirsty was pulling on Team Scotland colours in Dundee last September. She was selected for the squad to compete against eight other nations as part of the Street Soccer Nations Cup and explains how the experience will live with her forever.
“The Nations Cup was just so special. It was unbelievable to meet people from all over and there was just a vast variety of backgrounds and stories, it’s something I’ll never grow tired from talking about.
I think it’s really helped the programmes here in the city too. It’s given real visibility to the pathway and what sort of opportunities are available to players. It’s huge for the city that we’ve kind of got facilities like this and I think it’s good for women to come along to have a goal to aim for.
For me personally, I was at uni, in and out of hospital. I just had no clue where I was going to go, what I was going to do in and then Street Soccer came along and it’s just a completely new lease of life. I previously thought that I’d nothing left in the tank. I thought, right, I’ll just plod along the rest of my life with no real sense of drive or purpose and that’s all changed.”
Kirsty was part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, speaking at Street Soccer’s Women Inspired event and appearing on Sky Sports and STV to talk about her experiences with the Change Centre. Reflecting on her experience and what’s next, she emphasises that it’s important for women to keep supporting each other across all Street Soccer programmes.
“Women’s football is growing all the time. It’s amazing how much it’s grown from even when I stopped playing competitively like two years ago, the growth in the game, and I think that’s great for engagement here as well, because women are seeing women playing football, seeing them on the tele and taking inspiration from that. There are women here that are slightly older and when they were younger it would have been much harder to pick up a sport like football. It wasn’t the done thing.
So, it’s great to have a space like this where women come together and regardless if you’ve played before, we all feel valued. It’s not the case that you’re a female player, we’re all players, we’re all here for similar reasons as to develop ourselves and being here’s a great opportunity to do that. we are all on the same team.”
With positive times ahead, Kirsty hopes she can help other players like the team at the Change Centre have helped her. She says that the change in herself has been unrecognisable.
“I’m just not the same person. Now I have purpose, I am valued. Beforehand, I didn’t think I had anything else to give and then I came here, and it was just kind of like ‘oh god, actually, I can do this!’.
So, from last July till now there’s been a massive change. I was just a shell of a person last year. I came here and I couldn’t even say my own name and now all the girls are like ‘Kirsty, shut up!’.