In Focus: Football Foundation – One Year On…
Dean Potter, Director of Grant Management at the Football Foundation, reflects on a difficult year for the grassroots game and how, in spite of everything, the power of football prevailed thanks to an unprecedented level of emergency investment and support.
It’s been a challenging time for football across the country. Many clubs and organisations have been severely impacted due to the Covid-19 restrictions, with over 112,000 hours of playing time lost and revenue streams brought to an abrupt stop. Yet, pitches still needed to be maintained, utility bills paid and grounds made secure for when activity was able to resume safely – a huge challenge with limited resources.
However, thanks to the investment from our funding partners, the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England, the Football Foundation was able to adapt quickly, targeting these problems head on by delivering a number of Covid relief funding schemes to give clubs support where they needed it most. To date, over 9,900 grants have been awarded across our different emergency funds, including the Pitch Preparation Fund, Club Preparation Fund, Matchday Support Fund and Return to Football Fund, totalling over £22.5m. The funding provided meant clubs were not only able to survive during these tough times, they were able to look ahead to plan and prepare for when football did return.
The month of June marks one year on from the first of our emergency funding grants to be offered. Whilst we are under no illusion the difficulties are over, as we recover from the effects of coronavirus, we can take pause and celebrate the achievements of grassroots clubs during this period.
The first emergency fund to launch in May 2020 was the Pitch Preparation Fund, a scheme aimed at supporting clubs across the football pyramid and grassroots game to maintain their pitches and get them ready for action ahead of the resumption of football. Funding provided by the Premier League, The FA and Government’s Football Foundation and the Premier League-funded, Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF), saw 9588 pitches made match-fit from a £7m injection, benefitting over 33,000 teams.
Without a good quality surface to play on, there can be no game, showing the importance of these investments for all clubs. Football is the bedrock of communities up and down the country and so when the Government allowed, we wanted it to be part of the nation’s recovery.
Grants of up to £5,000 meant clubs were able to carry out the essential maintenance work they may have otherwise been unable to do. This was certainly the case for Old Boltonians FC in Lancashire. Without a Pitch Preparation Fund grant, the club confirmed “their annual renovation works were in serious doubt and would have been simply unaffordable”. However, thanks to the investment, the club’s renovation went ahead, getting their pitches in top condition for when football did resume.
With pitches looking pristine, clubs were then able to turn their attention to getting their grounds secure in line with Covid protocols. This is where the second fund from the Foundation came in, the Club Preparation Fund. This Fund ensured sites were made as safe as possible for when the football community could stream through the doors once again. Over 40,000 teams benefitted from 3383 grants to improve and modify their facilities to help with return to play.
The Matchday Support Fund was then set up to support clubs across Steps 1-6 of the men’s FA National League System, Tiers 1-5 of the FA Women’s Pyramid and the Welsh Premier League to kick off the 2020/21 season. Funding from the Premier League, delivered through the FSIF, provided 1090 clubs with the ability to make their stadiums secure for players, officials and spectators ahead of their league campaign.
Our Covid relief funds have had real impact not only on a broad scale country-wide, but on individual clubs and teams. From having a steady income stream to their doors being shut overnight, the effect of the pandemic left Marine AFC, like many clubs, in need of urgent financial support. Thanks to Pitch Preparation Fund, Club Preparation Fund and Matchday Support Fund grants, Marine AFC were able to maintain their pitches and implement safety measures, such as distancing screens and one-way systems, ready for resumption of football. Club Chairman, Paul Leary, described the funds as “absolutely vital”.
More recently, as part of the Foundation’s Game On campaign, emergency funding was targeted at clubs and not-for-profit organisations in the top 40% most deprived areas through the Return to Football Fund. Aimed at the highest areas of deprivation in England, disability football and groups underrepresented in football, including women and girls, grants were available to support the return to football or activities aimed at bringing new players to the game.
This was a fund that provided benefits to Rugby Town Girls and Women FC (RTGWFC), whose Return to Football grant was used to deliver a programme aimed at increasing football participation for girls and women in Rugby. Claire Angus, RTGWFC Vice-Chair, said: “With the fantastic growth our club is seeing, this grant ensured we had the volunteers, equipment, and environment to offer our members a fun, supportive and safe environment for them to enjoy their sport.”
We know football is more than just a game, and with over 12 million grassroots players in the country, these Covid relief funds were essential in supporting clubs and the communities they serve. Receiving over £30,000 in Covid relief grants over the last 12 months, Staveley Miners Welfare FC Chairman, Terry Damms, said: “It enabled us to get ready and survive, not just for us but for other clubs in the local area who use our facility as well.”
Unlocking the power of pitches, through fair access to quality football facilities for everyone, is key to transforming lives and strengthening communities. And we need community sport now more than ever. With an unprecedented level of emergency investment, clubs and organisations were able to access the grants they needed to ensure pitches were prepped, grounds were Covid-secure and activity could resume safely.
The impact of our emergency funds has also gone beyond helping to alleviate the effects of the lockdown restrictions. Although protecting the immediate future of clubs may have been the aim, the incredible reach of these funds meant a record number of grants were awarded through our Small Grants scheme when compared to previous years, helping to make a lasting difference to grassroots football across the country, one pair of goalposts, set of portable floodlights and minor clubhouse works at a time.
The struggle is by no means over but we at the Foundation have made it our mission over the last 12 months to ensure funding is targeted at those who need it most to ensure we can keep enjoying football in high quality facilities that are available to all.
For more information about our apps or any of our grants, go to our website: www.footballfoundation.org.uk