Network Programme thriving in two new locations

Standing in the shadow of the stadium which produced so many special memories, Stuart Lovell outlines his plans for Street Soccer’s Network Programme with the hope of creating new memories through football.

Stuart was the captain when Livingston won the League Cup in 2004 and is leading Street Soccer’s newest session on the pitch which lies directly next to the Lions’ stadium. Taking place every Thursday from 11:30 until 1pm, Street Soccer are partnered with Open Door Accommodation Project to support players across West Lothian through free football sessions.

The network programme was a concept created by Street Soccer in 2020, taking football to more outlying communities in the central belt and giving players more access to Street Soccer’s support system.

“My official start date as the Network programme manager was 31 October 2020 and I spent some time dipping my toe in the sessions, see how they work, what the interaction is like. We know that everything we do needs to be built around that Street Soccer ethos, and it is important that we carried that in to the network sessions” says Stuart.

“Applying that to the network programme had its challenges, as approaching Christmas last year, we found ourselves back in lockdown. With that, contact sport became almost obsolete and we had to adapt in order to support our players.”

Stuart lifting the CIS Cup with Livingston in 2004 (Credit: The Scotsman)

With COVID interrupting plans for expansion in to new target areas, Stuart had time to evaluate what partners would work most efficiently with Street Soccer, and what communities needed the most support.

“We aren’t choosing these areas by accident, we want to help and we feel we can make a difference. It’s important that we can build relationships with a number of different people in each of these areas, in order to spread the word, build the numbers and have impact. We know we can be a trustworthy partner and the history speaks for itself.”

Livingston is the second location to benefit from Street Soccer’s Network Programme, with sessions in Stirling starting as soon as restrictions were lifted on contact sport in May. The programme takes place every Friday at Raploch Community Centre, working with Forth Valley Recovery Group to support players on their positive change journeys.

“We’ve got our sessions off to a strong start in our two areas, but we know we want to offer more. We want to offer everything that Street Soccer does in its established cities, such as the personal development opportunities. However, we need to be realistic and that’s why we want to become approachable for other charities who want to see what we do.

Partnerships are a strong pillar of everything Street Soccer do but as part of the network programme, it will be the lifeblood.”

Players enjoy a small-sided game at the Livingston drop-in with Open Door Accommodation Project

Weekly sessions as part of the network programme will follow the same structure as all other Street Soccer sessions do; they’re free, you don’t need any previous experience and we are always on hand for a chat. Stuart highlights that the opportunity to support players both on and off the pitch is what is driving the programme forward.

“I’ve been really pleased at how we have started bringing players together and making them aware of how we can support, the player pathways and the ability to seek further opportunities. That’s what’s going to make us successful in the long run. Everyone has a different journey and different goals but allowing an adult or young person to have that choice is why Street Soccer has been so successful in every area its tried so far.”

The Network Programme is ambitious in its nature, and there are exciting plans for it moving forward. With new target areas on the horizon, Stuart gets the sense that players are starting to feel part of the Street Soccer family.

“We’ve got a lot of ideas; helping those who are disengaged with education with further qualifications, creating safe environments for players and working closely with local councils to produce a tangible concept that can benefit all parties.

What was encouraging for me, was that when the Four Nations tournament was on in September, a few of the guys from the Stirling session came through to Edinburgh by their own choice and you could see their curiosity across the event. I spoke to them and asked them if they could understand what perception I was trying to build around Street Soccer and they were buzzing about it, you could tell they could really feel that sense of community and a desire to engage further.”

With 2022 just around the corner, Street Soccer are excited about bringing back more events such as tournaments and opportunities for players further afield. That’s just one exciting part of playing with Street Soccer.

“Getting all the players together and allowing them to experience stuff like tournaments, hearing stories from other players and understanding the ins and outs of the Street Soccer family.  That’s where the Network Programme is going to be an important.

I believe we have a unique story and being able to get that message across to players will hopefully highlight why we are a good location to play football and become a key difference maker. We often say that we are 30% football and 70% personal development but we can’t really get to a point of discussing that until we earn trust, that’s why we are not in any hurry, the quality of support is crucial to what we do.”

Raploch Community Centre where our Stirling drop-in takes place every Friday with FV Recovery Group (Credit: Walsh DS)

With the wheels in motion now in both Stirling and Livingston, Street Soccer are looking at plans to bringing football to Falkirk, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Fife in the near future. Stuart underlines why its key to treat each of these locations differently.

“Every new area for the network programme might have a slightly tailored approach but I think that’s the beauty of it and we know that football based training needs that sort of dynamic. We have got the evidence to show we can deliver a safe and successful session, but we will work with network partners to find out how that is best executed in their area.

The players will still have the opportunity to learn, adapt and hopefully be able to deliver their own events or sessions – we know that those that benefit from programmes like ours, want to give back.”

Football is an amazing way of breaking down barriers, for both men and women. We know first hand what sort of impact an hourly session can have on someone’s physical and mental wellbeing but first and foremost we want to have fun.

Stuart is visibly excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and highlights a sense of pride that other partner charities are too.

“We want to be creative as an organisation to work with all the partners who feed in to our locations, to empower them and prepare them to a level where they can lead on our sessions and still offer the same level of support. We will always be around but the magic of the network programme is that other organisations will blossom too.”

If your organisation would be interested in the Network Programme, get in touch with Stuart Lovell on [email protected]

Free drop-in sessions:

Stirling – Raploch Community Centre, Drip Road, FK8 1RD

Friday 16:00-17:45

Livingston – West Lothian Community Foundation Pitch, Almondvale, EH54 7DN

Thursdays 11:30-13:00

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