This season has been like no other, on and off the pitch, and to mark the last game of the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, West Ham United Foundation CEO Joseph Lyons has reflected on accomplishments in the community…
I must begin by acknowledging what a momentous occasion it is for everybody at West Ham United, and across the UK, to be able to have some fans back in the stadiums!
Community and supporters are at the heart of our Club and we have all truly missed being able to attend fixtures and seeing fans cheering on our beloved team – particularly in an outstanding season.
The past 14 months have been incredibly challenging, and we have all had our own circumstances to deal with, personally and professionally. As an organisation, we are focused on helping people across east London and Essex and throughout the pandemic our community has been disproportionately impacted.
As a result, we have pivoted our operations to continue helping people at this heightened time of need – supporting wherever we possibly can – working in new ways, with new partners and establishing new schemes of work to tackle complex issues. We have seen some vast developments in our delivery with the progression of our mentoring initiatives, advancements in our mental health provision, increased aid for those living in poverty, and growth of our learning and employability opportunities.
Despite the ongoing difficulties brought by the pandemic, we have seen a number of highlights, including:
- Free weekly virtual exercise classes for our local NHS staff.
- Increased delivery of our Holiday Hunger scheme - since 2018, we have served nearly 10,000 meals, helping children at risk of going hungry in the school holidays.
- Our over-60’s Any Old Irons participants engaging in a virtual programme.
- More than 4,000 young people reached through the Stop the Hate project in the past two years, tackling racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias, in partnership with Show Racism the Red Card.
Coinciding with this has been our ongoing endeavours to drive equality. Prejudice and discrimination have no place in our society, and I’ve been particularly shocked by the racist abuse which has been taking place online. Therefore, earlier this month we were proud to join the Club, the rest of English football, sporting organisations and people across the world, to boycott social media - calling for real-life sanctions for online hate. Diversity and inclusion are integral to us and we will be continuing to use our influence and expertise to educate others.
On the pitch, players within our Player Pathway and Post-16 programmes have been excelling and we’ve seen a strong increase in female participation. Moreover, last weekend the U15 Boys Performance Academy and U16 Women’s Academy won Junior Premier League titles which was a brilliant end to their seasons.
I am also delighted to share that we are launching a new partnership with Choices International. We have an exceptional staff team, and we are going to be using our unique expertise to add to our offering by providing a training and education scheme for international players, when safe to do so.
This snapshot of activity only goes a small way to show the passion, dedication and hard work which is applied by every person across the Club and Foundation. Key to this are the players and we are extremely fortunate to have squads who understand the roots of the Club and have embraced their roles across our community, through the Players’ Project. Although we have had to change many of our plans due to government restrictions, we are grateful for their unwavering support.
The Players’ Project has been consistently recognised across the sports industry and, adding to our recent London Sport Award and Sport Business Award, we are currently shortlisted in two categories at the July 2021 Football Business Awards; Best CSR Scheme - Players’ Project and Best Community Scheme - Stop the Hate.
Whilst this is brilliant recognition, our focus remains on the impact we have on people’s lives and we know there is more to be done.
Having now completed the first two years of our 2019-2024 strategy, the next three years involve the continued development of our initiatives with a specific focus on poverty, equality, loneliness and health and wellbeing. For example, we are furthering our mental health work and strengthening our frameworks in order to appropriately deal with the epidemic we will likely face over the next ten years.
As a community-focused organisation, it’s crucial that we keep responding to need and we remain confident that our values, attitude, and approach will enable us to continue to make a lasting difference now and in the future.