I have spoken before about how the real benefit of social value initiatives will only be seen in the longer term.
When I made this comment back in 2016 little did I know that my words were about to become true on a very local and personal level.
For many years I have coached junior football teams at the weekend – the mighty Royston Dynamo’s – a mixed team of lads and girls. Throughout the years, we have had a lot of fun and a great deal of success on the pitch – I also firmly believe that the kids who have come to us have benefitted from being a part of a team and have developed not only their sporting skills, but their life skills too.
This has been fully reinforced to me with the news that one of the young girls who joined us at the age of 7 to run around in the mud and burn of excess energy on a Saturday morning has been signed by Barnsley Ladies FC 1st team, which is affiliated to the Barnsley FC club.
At 17 Emily Ward is their youngest player and such is her ability she has featured in most of their games this season. They currently sit at the top of their division (North East Regional League-Premier Division) and are in the semi-finals of the county cup.
For those perhaps not aware, women’s football is one of the fastest growing participation sports in the country, with more and more of the established professional clubs embracing voluntary teams to help to make them into professional sporting set ups. It means that there are genuine opportunities for young girls – as Emily has done – to make a transition from their passion for the game being just a weekend hobby, to it becoming a genuine career path.
Why do I say this? It is because alongside playing Emily is studying too for a long-term career, and she is benefitting from the opportunity to undertake a Sport and Exercise Science degree at the local University Campus.
It is a remarkable story and she should be an inspiration for others to follow; if you try and create opportunities for people there will be rewards, and these social value projects will deliver benefits in the communities local to where they are run.
I met up again with Emily recently to talk to her about her life as a 1st team footballer, and to show her the continued support of Mila Window and Door Maintenance by sponsoring her training kit as she starts her career.
She told me her ambitions were to study for her degree, continue to play for Barnsley Ladies FC , and one day to play for England ladies. I was delighted to hear this level of ambition, and if she makes it what a great inspiration she will be for other young girls to follow – but also for the likes of myself and all those others who give up time to volunteer and run sports teams at the weekend. She is a reward for all those who put some much into creating opportunities.
We all wish Emily the very best of luck in her footballing career; although the youngest member of the squad she is a full first team member and has started most games this season, and even from full-back has chipped in with crucial goals. It is a testimony to her dedication and commitment more than anything else, but her story is a great motivation for everybody in whatever walk of life to give their time and energy to create opportunities for other people.
There is so much talent in all fields around in the country, creating the opportunity to let that talent shine is the real essence of adding social value.