Shefford football project 'Use your feet' kicked off summer holidays in style

'Sport is a good outlet – it’s a tool to build relationships, confidence and self-esteem'

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 4:35 pm

A Shefford football project kicked off the summer holidays in style as it achieved its goal of forging friendships and growing confidence.

Grand Union Housing Group’s summer timetable of activities in Bedfordshire is proving to be a great success, with young people signed up to a host of activities till the end of the month, including arts and crafts and allotment sessions, as well as sports and fitness programmes.

One of the sports programmes funded by the local housing provider, together with Shefford Town Council, Central Bedfordshire Council HAF programme and the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), is the ‘Use your feet’ football project in Shefford, part of the Strive 123 multi sports project.

Youngsters playing football in Shefford as part of Grand Union's summer activities.

Sean is goalkeeper and is a huge West Ham fan, as well as a big fan of the football project.

His mum, Angela, said: “Sean’s 13 and has additional needs. We found grass roots football to not be very inclusive, but Sean loves it here, it’s a godsend.

“This has given him so much more confidence as he’s mixing with a lot more kids. Away from the football it’s changed him too – he’s socialising more now.

“We went to a party at the weekend and he had an incredible time, dancing, DJing, all sorts.

Young footballers at Stotfold with Kevin, Dan and Nicola.

His gran said she’d never seen him like that before. He was the life and soul!

“This project has given Sean a major boost. Dan, who leads the project, is amazing and has great rapport with the kids; they all respect Dan.”

Dan Gaze is the lead youth coach and creates team games for the young people that take part.

Dan said: “This is all about helping young people. Sport is a good outlet – it’s a tool to build relationships, confidence and self-esteem and for kids to make new friends.

Dan Gaze (bottom right) and the young footballers at Shefford.

“Even youngsters who never used to get involved in sport are keen to come along. It gets them off the street for an hour or two.”

“Back in 2002 I was in prison for ABH; I’d had a bad upbringing. When I got out of prison I worked in a kitchen in London and got involved in youth work. I worked as a teaching assistant for 13 years and then ended up as assistant head, heading up PE.

“I moved to Bedfordshire last year and set up my support service. Nicola King, Grand Union’s Youth Participation Co-ordinator, invited me to lead on this project, which is

organised by the housing association.”

Debbie Stuart, Grand Union’s director of Wellbeing and Safeguarding said: “Our summer activities had to be hugely scaled back last year due to the pandemic, so it’s great to see them back at full capacity this year and so many young people coming along.

“The activities we provide for young people are all about engagement, identifying and overcoming barriers, raising aspirations and mentoring support.

“We facilitate a number of activities in Bedfordshire, including team sports at the Riverside MUGA in Stotfold, which has been running since the beginning of June and which has highlighted the need to enhance and improve the facilities there.

“Stotfold Council are supportive and have recently released a community survey to gain feedback on what young people would like to see to improve the Riverside area.”

Also working alongside Dan is youth support worker Kevin, and Andreas, who’s 16.

Andreas’ mum, Pippa, said: “Dan has identified skills in Andreas and built on those, especially his self-esteem.

“Andreas is very bright but with autism and ADHD, there’s a great deal of temptation out there and the risk that things could go wrong.

“Dan is an excellent role model. He’s authentic, compassionate and has a can-do attitude.

He’s very generous with his time and makes a world of difference for these kids. I hope that Andreas can become a role model like him.

“Keeping young people engaged and doing something constructive is what this is all about. This should be a national project.”

Grand Union’s activities run until the end of the month. You can find a timetable of events here: https://www.guhg.co.uk/our-summer-of-youth-activities-begins-today/