United by the game

Taken From Tottenham Community Press – July 2019 issue.

How football sessions in Tottenham are providing fun and
hope for refugee and asylum seeking children and young adults

by Miri Burnett

Wembley tournament

One rainy Friday evening in August 2018, I attended a Football United session in Croydon, run and hosted by Hill- song Church UK.
There were approximately 60 refugee and asylum seeking, young people in attendance, represent- ing countries from all around the world, playing football on a large, brightly lit pitch.

The atmosphere was electric, loud cheers and booming laughter filled the air, whilst they ran with faces ignited with the brightest smiles. Some young people I met on the night had been in the country for less than 48 hours. These new arrivals seemed apprehensive and anxious but by the end of the evening they appeared reassured, calm and exuberant.

I left sure of one thing, that Phoenix Community Care (PCC) needed a football session just like this one.

PCC has worked directly with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) aged 16-21 years old, since 2002, providing a support- ed housing service based predom- inately in and around Tottenham. We help them access facilities and support that will enable them to start rebuilding their lives and build a secure future.

Last September, Football United extended their training sessions and brought the activity to Tottenham. We were able to support the pro- gramme by sponsoring a venue and inviting and welcoming local unaccompanied, refugee and asylum seeking children.

The first session was so suc- cessful and well attended that it continued and runs every week. It grew quickly and we have had as many as 74 register and attend since it began.

An average of 3,000–4,000 UASC claim asylum every year in the UK. Most have endured a perilous journey.

Like all children and young adults, they possess great potential and arrive hopeful. However, they can sometimes feel powerless, discon- nected and socially excluded. They have to navigate a new language, culture and community, a ‘new’ everything and it is often a traumatic and daunting experience. Football is a universal language, it crosses cultural barriers, devel- ops relationships, boosts morale and builds confidence in those who play or support.

The Football United programme has provided our young refugees and asylum seeking children with an opportunity to pursue a passion for the game, exercise, make friends, practice their English, and promote a healthy lifestyle in a safe envi- ronment that is sensitive to their current circumstances.

All the staff are professional- ly trained coaches and volun- teers who are equipped with the right skills and experience to deliver high quality football training sessions.

We are proud that our young people have access to passionate and caring local volunteers from various professional backgrounds. The Government’s safeguarding strategy for UASC (Nov 2017) clearly outlines the ‘moral responsibility to assist those who are suffering as a result of world conflict.’

Our football project is part of a local response to help facilitate a moral duty to serve and support such children, who can be some of the most vulnerable in our society.

If you are interested in finding out more, making a financial contribution, volunteering and/or if you are a young person wanting to attend, please find out more:

Visit response/football-united