A 12-week football programme, alongside English lessons, has supported asylum seekers new to Walsall with their mental health and wellbeing, as well as helping them to make connections in the local community.
The sessions were set up by Walsall Together, in partnership with Walsall FC Foundation, the Refugees and Migrants’ Centre (RMC) and Active Black Country (ABC), following engagement with the group around activities.
Funded as part of Sport England Commonwealth Active Communities programme, Walsall Football Club led two weekly one-and-a-half-hour football sessions within a short walking distance for the participants. English lessons took place in the Walsall FC Community Hub.
Feedback from the sessions has been positive.
One participant said: “The first months when I became a refugee in this country, I felt lonely and depressed but since I started playing football in this stadium, it affected my whole feelings. It made me more friends and start new relationships, and it also made me feel better. I owe this to your kindness and efforts.”
Helen Billings, Head of Partnerships and Development, for Walsall Together, said: “This was a really great example of what can be possible with some partnership working.
“We genuinely didn’t know what the uptake would be like, but all the places were filled instantly, and coaches were flexible in allowing additional players join in. We have learnt a few lessons along the way and very much hope to be able to continue working with this vulnerable group and continue to support them with their physical and mental wellbeing.”
Mike Salmon, Head of Insight, Health and Wellbeing, Active Black Country, said “It was great to see those talking part having fun and making new connections.
“Many of these people have fled their home country and can feel extremely lonely and isolated in a new country where some of them don’t speak the language. Providing them with an opportunity to get some physical activity and learn some English so they can build relationships and have positive social interactions is really important.”
Adam Davy, Director of Walsall FC Foundation, added: “We were aware of the residents staying locally and wanted to look at a way of engaging them in football sessions and ESOL courses to improve their wellbeing and language skills.
“I am extremely grateful for the support we got from partners at Active Black Country, Walsall Together and the Refugee and Migrant Centre (Walsall). The sessions were organised in quick time and our staff enjoyed offering the football to the participants.
“Our links with Walsall College also meant that we were able to support the residents to gain access to further ESOL qualifications. Overall, the sessions were a huge success, and everyone involved is delighted with the outcomes – most importantly the participants.”
All the participants were provided with a goody bag on their final session from local business AF Blakemore & Son Ltd, filled with products such as shower gels and deodorants.
Plans are in place in Walsall to identify opportunities to run a similar programme again with links to volunteering opportunities.