Wednesday, April 25, 2012

#communitysport blog – Kelly Davies, Vi-Ability

Our latest blog in our Community Sport series comes from Kelly Davies. Kelly is an ex-international football player with 36 caps for Wales who has also played for Arsenal and Liverpool Ladies. She is also the youngest woman to obtain an MBA in the Football Industries.

During her studies, the idea came to her for a social business that could tackle the issues of commercially unsustainable football clubs and youth disengagement in education. Vi-Ability was born.

Kelly Davies founder of football social enterprise Vi-Ability

For me, community sport means doing two things: (1) Providing participative sports opportunities for all members of the community regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, ability or social status; and (2) Broadening the scope of that sporting activity to include educative/sport initiatives, social inclusion/cohesion projects and other community related activities.

In my opinion, the two have to go hand in hand and be done in an innovative/ entrepreneurial way for community sport to become financially self-sustainable in the long term, and to be given the opportunity to thrive – something which is of paramount importance to attract interest and get people hooked for life; particularly from those individuals who have historically struggled with motivation towards sports and would hysterically laugh at you if you asked them to join a fitness class because they thought it was a joke. 

Two problems, which I knew existed, spurred me on - Well three if you include my Dad telling me - in the politest possible way - at the age of 21 that I needed to get an alternative career because I wouldn’t earn enough as a footballer and he wouldn’t keep paying for his little princess for the rest of his life.

The first problem was the alarming number of football clubs threatened by or going into administration. In the simplest terms, football clubs go into administration because they do not operate like a business. In my opinion key people at the club make irrational decisions with their money. Instead of investing in a commercial director - to improve the business side of things through the maximisation of current income streams, and the discovery of alternative sources of revenue - football chairmen get seduced by the promises of football managers that buying another decent centre back and forward will turn the club’s fortunes around. Yet the reality is nothing can be guaranteed. For example, what happens if the new players get injured in the first game?

The second problem was the rising number of young people not in education, employment or training. For me, this was an even bigger concern as it was an enormous waste of a young person’s potential and the positive contribution they could make to their community and the economy. 

I felt I had solutions to both of these problems…and came up with the idea of Vi-Ability.

At the moment, because training and supported employment (i.e. apprenticeship schemes) within the sports industry is predominantly focused on promoting instructor qualifications and careers - most individuals the Vi-Ability project will look to engage will have a misconception that ‘if they aren’t a football player or football coach’ they won’t find a job in the industry. The reality is very different!

Whilst on programme with us, individuals are given an in-depth insight into the varied job opportunities that exist within a football club. Participants don’t just shadow existing employees within operational departments - they actually carry out specific responsibilities in order to acquire valuable experience and gain greater understanding of job expectations. For example, if they are running an enterprising activity they have to project manage it. This helps participants to gain transferrable skills, such as planning and delegation that will help them compete in an ever-changing labour market in the future.

Because of its innovative nature, we believed that it was of paramount importance to get the programme accredited so there was a) recognition for the individuals completing the work; and b) protection of the intellectual property. This soon happened, and we now have a customized BTEC in Football Industries award, certificate and diploma. We have exclusive delivery rights and can now generate sales from it. 

All the people that have enrolled on one of our courses (which now includes one lady of 82 years) have changed their life in a positive way through sport to varying degrees. For example; some may have just developed confidence or increased their self-esteem, some may have made conscious healthy life style changes or become better parents or neighbours, whilst others have gained employment. Last year alone, we helped 56 individuals gain jobs, which is absolutely fantastic!

The Vi-Ability programme has been designed so that every few weeks an activity will be undertaken to add value to both the participant and the local community. An example, that best demonstrates this is recently a young group of participants were asked to design, plan and run a project for the community that helps address a social, health, or educational issue. They decided to run a ‘late night football’ project. This activity not only helped the participants to improve their ability to coach youngsters with challenging attitudes and behaviours, but it adds value for the community in that it ‘keeps kids off the street’, which helps tackle antisocial behaviour and makes residents feel safer.

I’ve managed to galvanise the community and bring lots of partners together by creating a friendly atmosphere and offering lots of cakes and biscuits! No on a serious note…it’s by being open and involving staff, volunteers, members of the community and other organisations in what we do and plan to do in the future. We’ve recently achieved the ‘investors in people’ mark for this.

Follow Kelly, and Vi-Ability, on Twitter @Vi_Ability

This blog was written in conjunction with the launch of a strategy for Community Sport in Wales.  If you’d like your say, get involved in the debate on twitter – using the hashtag #communitysport and you can mention us @sport_wales