“I want to find ways to help others.” | Alan’s story

By becoming the youngest member of staff at the Change Centre in Dundee, Alan Gilmartin believes the experiences he has had since then has allowed him to become a more confident and stronger person.

Alan joined the team in Dundee late in 2022 as an operational support assistant and feels his progression has been massive.

“My role focuses on helping facility management and making sure all the staff are up to date with their training and so on. It’s been a big learning process, I’m learning a bit of everything, shadowing other staff too, including the programme team.

I definitely feel like my role at Change Centre has helped me progress and all the great people I’ve got around me.”

Alan’s role is funded by The Rank Foundation, a philanthropic organisation that looks to promote innovation and leadership in communities across the UK. Alan, alongside many other young people were placed in to charity work within their community. After six months in his new role, Alan reflects on the process.

“I secured the role here at Change Centre through the Rank Foundation. They’ve funded a place for me with Street Soccer as I met the criteria of just coming out of education and having lived experience of being in the care system. We all felt that my role here was a good fit for me here in Dundee. The Rank foundation fund charity placements all across the UK and helps a lot of young people find their feet and work out what’s best for their abilities.

My first week at the organisation was to help support and be part of the team for the Nations Cup. This experience provided a great opportunity to meet the full Street Soccer team as well as understand what a Street Soccer event was like. After that, I was part of a residential trip with Rank, which was great for meeting other people with lived-experience.

It definitely breaks down a lot of barriers and makes you feel like you’re not alone. We were all from loads of different places and had connected over similar experiences. It was really empowering.”

Alan and his colleagues at Street Soccer’s Gala Dinner in November 2022.

Having experienced a challenging childhood, Alan believes he is in the best place to allow his own personal development but also leaning on that experience to support others.

“When you’ve seen the thing you’ve seen, it’s very easy to go down that road and make bad decisions. Drugs and alcohol would have been really accessible due to who you’ve known and what’s happened in your family – so you have a choice.

I didn’t want to go down that road and I want to help empower other young people. I barely went to school and I had loads of challenges in my childhood and with where I am now, I want to show people that they don’t have to let that hold them back too. I find that with what I’ve learned and a bit of security, I am now in a place where I can reflect and support others.”

With the support of his team in Dundee, Alan highlights that the belief instilled into each and every member of the Street Soccer family has really resonated with him and that its something he want to pass on to many others that he interacts with both inside and outside of his work.

“I have met people through Rank and through Street Soccer and it’s almost like looking at yourself five years ago. Many of these people might be a bit taking back as to where I’ve found myself, landed on my feet a bit. They see this role at Change Centre as a massive deal – and it is. But that’s where I am now and I want to help others in showing them that it’s possible. You’ve got to believe in yourself, even when nobody else will.

I know a lot of people that come in here, that are similar ages to me. That’s a massive factor in building trust but also the fact that I’ve overcome my own challenges, it helps people look forward and find a new level of support. The football here can get emotional, as football does, but we have the personnel here that can help people from all walks of lives improve what they’re doing.

A recurring theme in Alan’s reflection is how powerful football can be. The power of the beautiful game is unrivalled, particularly in Dundee. He illustrates that by using football as that point of connection, he would love to lead future projects at the centre in supporting young people with care experience.

“Football helps relieve so much pressure. You don’t think about your issues when you’re on the pitch. That’s a massive thing for all of us here at the Change Centre. You just have that couple of hours with you and your mates where you are just living in the moment.

Moving forward, I want to use my experience to help the programme side of things here at the Change Centre. I would love their to be a specific project for players with care experience, where I can use my role and my lived-experience to help bring people together and support their journeys, build a bit of trust. Current programmes around the city don’t really focus on the support systems, its more about getting in to employment and not tackling the mental health and trauma aspect.”

The progression in Alan’s character has been transformative and although that started long before his journey with Street Soccer began, he discusses the significance for those in his position to find a safe space that is judgement-free.

“I never even used to be very conversational, I couldn’t even answer the phone but now I am looking for ways to help others.

The fact we can help so many people gets me out of bed in the morning. Even if you help one person a day will get me out of bed, it’s so important to be inclusive and help as many people as we can.

When you are taken away from your parents, you’ve seen drugs, you miss school. You don’t learn the foundations and I think for a lot of people in care, you are chucked at the deep end after school and you don’t have the structure. So, the Change Centre is a safe space and there’s always going to be someone here to help you. Having that weekly structure gives you hope and helps you understand what you need or what you might need to learn.”

So, with renewed focus on progressing in both a professional and personal capacity, Alan underlines that things can only get better with his support system around him.

“I always want to get better and I’m in a great place. I like the responsibility and I learn so much from Scott, Davie and everyone else. There’s no silly questions in here and that has been big for me. I feel at home.”

You can find out more about Alan and the rest of the Change Centre team online and how they might be able to help your own journey or someone you know. Get in touch with the team via Alan on [email protected].

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