Football Beyond Borders (FBB) works with young people who are passionate about football but disengaged at school, helping them to finish school with the skills and grades they need to make a successful transition into adulthood. With the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 currently taking place in England, this guest blog by Ceylon Andi Hickman, Head of Brand at FBB, details how they are using this home tournament to elevate the voices of the young people they work with, and building a network of women who can open doors for them.

Football Beyond Borders, provides long-term, intensive support to young people who are passionate about football but disengaged at school. This support is built around relationships and young people’s passions, in the classroom and beyond. We now work with more than 2,000 young people on nearly 100 programmes at our partner schools across Greater Manchester, Yorkshire, London, Essex and Kent.

Whilst football is in our name, it might surprise you that we actually spend a lot of our time trying to distance ourselves from it.

Our programme is an intensive, four-year intervention that is delivered by highly-skilled and deeply committed practitioners who sign up to support their young people no matter what, throughout a considerable period of their life. The programme itself is designed towards outcomes, grounded in evidence, codified and quality-assured by a five-person ‘Impact Team’. A serious amount of experience, evidence, data, time and money has gone into how we work with young people.

Sometimes, our association with football means that the perception of us is the opposite. Some school leaders, parents or teachers might initially assume that we’re here to rock up in a young person’s life for a period of six weeks, armed with a bag of balls and a rack of cones, with ambitions of turning them into the next Trent Alexander-Arnold or Leah Williamson. So, you might understand why we dial down the football connotations from time to time.

But when an international tournament comes around, it’s the time to dial it up. The world of football is one of the most glamorous, popular and exciting industries in the world, and there’s no better time to make the most of every opportunity than during a global tournament. Whether it’s to elevate our young people’s voices in a call for policy change, to fundraise, or to expand our audiences, the eyes on football during these moments provide the perfect opportunity to activate.

Tapping into tournament fever

It all started in 2018, where we launched our campaign ‘City of Nations’ during the FIFA Men’s World Cup. At a time where social, racial and national division was rife in British society, we wanted to platform young people’s voices in their reflections of what it meant to grow up in multicultural Britain. Many of our young people have dual heritage, speak multiple languages, travel ‘home’ to relatives every year and exist alongside those who are exactly the same, but from a different country. Their desire to create a society where everyone shared their celebration of difference was pertinent after a Brexit referendum, and to us, there was no better lens to platform these stories than through that of a World Cup. World Cups are moments where nations come together for a month, to share the same space with the same dreams. Football—then—was the driver of one of the most meaningful conversations with our young people, and allowed their voices to be elevated at a time of socio-political tension.

Then there was 2019, during the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. For the first time ever, the women’s teams had been given their own shirt designs by Nike: a seminal moment in the game for women and girls. We wanted to use this advancement to look at what else needed to change. Our girls identified that they didn’t learn enough about women in school, whether that be in history, science, English or more. So, they took the nations with the new shirts, and researched one woman from history who’d changed society in some way, and interviewed a woman from that country (now living in London) to be inspired by the change she was making. That culminated in their own magazine, ‘The Women Who Changed the Game’, with a launch and fundraising event at Nike’s studios on the eve of the tournament.

‘First in the Field’

This summer, there is a home tournament. Our Lionesses stand a very good chance of winning the trophy, and they also get the joy of playing in front of home crowds for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022. Not only are tournaments a chance to introduce a whole generation of fans to football on their doorstep, but they can also create lifelong memories that shape our relationship to the game. Everyone remembers their first. This summer, the Women’s Euros could be the first tournament our girls fall in love with.

But our girls will also be the first in their families and communities to achieve so much. First to do their GCSEs, to finish school, to go to college, university, or even the first to have careers in the women’s game (should they choose to). That’s why we’re launching ‘First in the Field’: a celebration of women who have been the first in their industry to accomplish something, but are ensuring they aren’t the last. By partnering each woman with a girl on our programme who has ambitions to achieve something similar, we want to showcase intergenerational conversations that demonstrate the collective power of womanhood in football and beyond.

Lined up to star in the campaign is Anna Kessel—journalist, author and editor-in-chief of Women’s Sport at The Telegraph—partnered with Shahad: an 18-year-old FBB graduate who is off to study Media & Communications at university with the ambition of becoming a sports journalist.

Or there’s Lavinya Stennett and Sallyanne. Lavinya—the founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum—spoke to 15-year-old Sallyanne, from the third year of the FBB programme, about their shared ambitions for a representative curriculum in schools.

And finally, there’s Rosie Kmita and Kareece. Rosie was the first woman to sign a professional contract at West Ham United, and has since founded Level 7 Academy for girls to continue their education whilst playing football to a high level. She had a conversation with Kareece: a first year FBB student in year 8 who has only started playing football this year but has ambitions of making it pro.

Football as a launchpad

By capitalising on the interest and excitement of the Women’s Euros to elevate our young people’s voices, we are hoping to expand our audience of women supporters and build a network of women who can open doors for our participants. Whilst the conversations are a product of an international football tournament, the football has merely provided the launchpad for both our young people’s experiences and our brand ambitions.

Keep your eyes peeled on our social channels over the tournament to hear the conversations and reach out directly to iqra@footballbeyondborders.org to find out about our exclusive launch event on 28 July, hosted by Classic Football Shirts in London.

With #WEURO2022 taking place in England, here's how Football Beyond Borders is using the tournament to build a network of women who can open doors for their participants: Click To Tweet

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