Community goes from strength to strength
When you think of football in the community schemes, many people will have an image of coaches with balls, bibs and cones, taking soccer schools.
But in 2016, at Turf Moor, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Things have come a long way since former Claret Brian Flynn was the first head of the community scheme at in 1988, starting up with one desk, and a grant from the PFA.
The idea then was to help put a stop to the English disease of hooliganism, and halt a decrease in attendances up and down the country, by encouraging more families to grounds.
Burnley were one of the first to deploy this type of scheme, but the growth of what is today Burnley FC in the Community - the club’s official charity - has been staggering, particularly in what is approaching three years since Neil Hart arrived at the club.
In the early days, it was all about encouraging more children to play football, promote closer community links and maximise clubs’ facilities.
That initial mission statement has moved on, and some, to what today is a truly remarkable, self-financing, operation based around four key elements - sport, education, health and inclusion.
Now, there are 60 employees, with some 30,000 people across Burnley, Pendle, West Yorkshire and the Ribble Valley engaged by various programmes, into which the Community scheme has invested £2m this year alone.
Hart arrived in January 2014 as chief executive officer, having performed a similar role at Watford, where he worked with Sean Dyche.
He worked for the Hornets for almost a decade, but returned back to the north west, having originally hailed from Rochdale.
He left Watford as one of the most highly-regarded trusts in the country, and found Burnley’s in need of some TLC.
Hart, finding not as much as a bank account, started a new charity, and looked at ways of funding the scheme.
Putting his ideas in motion, he has helped establish Burnley FC in the Community as a positive force for good in the region.
There are the football and sporting activities you would come to expect - soccer schools, school sports programmes, Premier League Primary Stars, the PL/BT Disability Sport Project, Player Development Centre, Minikickers and Female Football Programme.
And since September, in the Jimmy McIlroy Stand, UCFB Burnley - a unique working collaboration between Burnley FC in the Community, UCFB and Nelson and Colne College - offers further education opportunities, including BTEC provision, apprenticeships, adult learning courses and employability workshops, with state of the art facilities - six 30-seater classrooms, a 150-seater auditorium and 40-seater library.
In terms of health, there are myriad schemes - Active Clarets, Extra Time for over 50s, Healthy Lifestyle Checks, Claret in Mind, Walking Football, Schools’ Healthy Eating and a free Men’s Healthy Weight Management Programme.
And former Clarets striker Danny Ings, before joining Liverpool, set up the Danny Ings Disability Sport Project.
Ings continues to support the programme, despite leaving Turf Moor, as he gives back to the community he enjoyed being a part of for four formative years in his career.
The England striker remains in contact with Hart to offer his backing.
In terms of inclusive programmes, there is National Citizen Service, Premier League Kicks, Parents on the Ball, Duke of Edinburgh and BAME Women’s Project.
And there is more good news on the horizon, with the £4million Brierfield Mill leisure facility development, which will enable youngsters to play sport, learn, climb, play and to eat - set to open in October.
Clarets boss Dyche is rightly proud of what is going on on the pitch at the club, and off it, with the success of the Community team.
He came into Turf Moor just over four years ago talking of a “one-club mentality” and of coming “together as a community and a team.”
And he feels the work of Hart and his team has been a big part of that.
Dyche said: “Neil is doing a great job. That was an important role when he came in. I knew him from Watford and I spoke very well of him at the time.
“He’s come in and ran with it. There were also good links but there’s more clear links and there’s more of them now, because they’ve got a team that can go out there in the community.
“I can’t get involved as I’d like, because of what we do here, especially in the Premier League, but I know from speaking to them they are doing some really good work, and the players go out there of course and take part in that.
“That’s really important. The club is building different things to get to where we are now, and when Neil came in that was an injection into the community to take it forward and it’s flourished, so I’m really pleased with the work they’re doing.”
The players also have a key role to play, with their jobs not only involving trying to win games at the weekend and training during the week.
They have a responsibility to get out into the community as well, as Dyche added: “I think it’s important at all clubs but I think at this one it enhances it slightly more.
“With such a small populous to come and support the club, it is a more real kind of connection, the players are more accessible and we chose that, we want them to go out there and be part of that.
“Neil is really good with that. We do forget they are people as well, they work very hard and they need some downtime, they have a rota so they all do roughly the same, they are all out there at some time.
“Neil’s monitored that well, he’s not asking too much of them, just enough where they’re seen as being exciting still, and it’s not ‘he’s coming again’. It can get too familiar and then that ruins the build-up and excitement of it, especially with kids.
“Neil will speak to us about different things that need an ambassador or a bit of a face to it in the local community and I think that’s really good, it’s very important here. The success they’ve had has been fantastic, they won another award the other night. All credit to him and his staff, there is a lot of work done by the staff.
“Whenever you speak to them there is a real good feeling about it, they really enjoy it, because we all know here you can make a difference, there are some tough areas here and some tough times for people, so it’s good to see the difference made by Neil and his team, and the players of course.”
To find out more, go to www.burnleyfccommunity.org/