To mark the second anniversary of West Ham United’s Players’ Project, the Club’s Board, players and community partners came together recently to reflect on the difference they had made during 2020, in what has been a challenging year for everyone as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosted by Henry Winter, Chief Football Writer at The Times, Hammers players Declan Rice, Ben Johnson and Kate Longhurst joined Vice-Chairman Karren Brady, West Ham United Foundation CEO Joe Lyons, Director of Strategy for the Switch the Play Foundation Rob Young, Vice-President of Show Racism the Red Card Leroy Rosenior, John Ratomski from Irons Supporting Foodbanks and Jo Roberts, member of Any Old Irons.
The group discussed the challenges of 2020 so far and how the COVID-19 pandemic has regrettably increased the inequality gap in local communities. Jo, John and Leroy were on hand to explain how the Club, the Board and the players had come together to help them through this turbulent year, and their efforts to help try and address the issues of poverty and loneliness in east London and Essex, whilst also tackling issues of racism through the Stop the Hate programme in schools.
The Club also announced that it is on track to deliver the pledges made one year ago, which included £10million for the community, an increase of £5m on its initial pledge, giving a forecasted investment of £28m by the end of 2021. The Club, through the West Ham United Foundation, is also doubling its commitment to the Holiday Hunger programme, which will mean £100,000 will be put towards the project by the end of 2021.
Throughout November and December, Hammers fans have been generously reaching into their pockets to help vital local projects such as the Newham Foodbank and Barking and Dagenham’s Christmas Cheer campaign. Players and management wanted to join forces with fans, to continue to help the campaigns, with their own donations following Joint-Chairman David Sullivan’s support throughout 2020, with more than £30,000 provided to Newham Foodbank, including the finance of a delivery van, and a £25,000 donation to FareShare UK towards free meals through the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, founded by the inspiring Marcus Rashford MBE.
Rob Young joined the call having conducted research into the Players’ Project and its impact on people in the community. Speaking to Henry, Rob reflected: “Our role was to look at two things. We looked at the Players’ Project impact over the first two seasons, so we looked at the impact it’s had on the beneficiaries of all the different appearances the players have undertaken. The second part was to understand the factors that help to deliver impactful appearances.
“There isn’t much research out there that asks ‘what difference do appearances make?’ and what is really pleasing to see is it come to life, in terms of the individual stories that we hear, but also when you start to aggregate that up and do some quantitative analysis, it shows that the players are making a difference to the community.
“One of things that is a critical success factor as to why the Players’ Project is so effective is because it is a whole-club approach. Right from the top down, you get that sense in the way the players talk about that sense of family and community – the players understand it, the staff understand it, and when it comes to delivering the appearance, everyone values what it is about. I think that is really important and, from what we hear, that isn’t always consistent across all clubs.”
Switch the Play’s research found that:
- There were 115 total Players’ Project appearances across the two seasons since its launch (to May 2020), with 281 individual appearances from players (reflecting multiple players usually attending the same appearances). This equates to nearly 600 hours committed by players to support local communities. These appearances are in addition to any commercial appearances that players conduct on behalf of the club.
- The impact of COVID-19 is particularly interesting. Across a 10-week period the club were able to significantly increase their community facing activity at a time of unprecedented need, with an average of five player ‘activities’ per week. Whilst the circumstances were unique in terms of player availability this does present some interesting future considerations as to what constitutes a player appearance with potential to be more flexible and creative around players' time commitments, on the assumption that this type of appearance can be identified as impactful.
- Overall, 82% of beneficiaries strongly agreed (78%) or agreed (4%) that they had been inspired towards the targeted outcome of the appearance. The 150Club provides a good example. 100% of respondents strongly agreed that the player appearance had inspired them to be more active.
- It is evident from the hosts reported aspirations for appearances that they were placing high expectations on the types of impact that they were hoping that the Players’ Project appearance could help achieve. It is therefore particularly significant that all 15 host respondents to a survey (100%) noted that the players contributed positively towards the targeted outcomes for the appearance.
- Research indicates that the Players’ Project has had a positive impact on the club in the following areas:
- Improved staff engagement
- Improved player engagement
- Club identity and community emphasis
- The value in bringing the three playing cohorts together
- Improved integration with the women’s team
- Contribution towards the club’s duty of care over young players personal development.
Vice-Chairman Karren Brady concluded the call by adding: “One of the best things about the Players’ Project is the empathy and understanding that it promotes and brings to the very heart of the causes it represents and helps.
“I’m so proud of our players, but I’m also so proud of our supporters as well, when you think of what people like John Ratomski are doing, going out and making a difference. When people say ‘what is the West Ham way?’ – that is the West Ham Way.”