Written by Phil Owtram
Reading FC Community Trust Social Inclusion Ambassador Hope Akpan and team mate Aaron Tshibola showed their competitive spirit in a different setting, when they visited Southcote Youth & Community Centre last Thursday evening. Both players took part in the ‘Cream Cracker challenge’ alongside members of Southcote Youth Club organised by staff from Reading FC Community Trust. The aim of the challenge was to eat three cream crackers in ninety seconds and although no one was close to the 33.03 second world record Aaron Tshibola showed he has talent away from the football field when he polished off his three cream crackers within the allotted timeframe. This activity was just one of those enjoyed by the members of the Youth Club who also had the chance to take on the players at a game of FIFA, much to their delight! Hope and Aaron then posed for a photograph with the young people, before signing autographs.
The Reading FC Community Trust runs eight other Youth Clubs for 11-19 year olds in the Reading area, as part of their social inclusion programme. Dan Walker and Jade Beaumont help run the Southcote Youth Club on behalf of the trust and emphasised the key role it plays in bringing the local community together. They also spoke about Reading Football Club’s Kicks project in partnership with the Premier League, which uses the power of football to engage with young people and break down barriers between them and the police to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. Jade said “Since Kicks has come onto the scene, numbers in youth clubs have gone up, the crime rate has gone down and it’s now a big part of the youth system.” The project runs a number of football, alternative sports and activities sessions during the week, with the aim of developing the potential of the young people in the local area. The young people also have the opportunity to compete in Kicks tournaments against teams representing other professional football clubs, as well as learning life skills, going on trips and receiving talks from the police on gun and knife crime.
Previous attendees of Kicks sessions have gone onto work for the Community Trust, including Dan who started attending Kicks sessions five years ago, at the age of sixteen and now works for the trust delivering football sessions and running Southcote Youth Club. Jade who also helps run the Youth Club participated in a Prince’s Trust course, organised by Reading Football Club and then went onto secure a permanent position working for the Community Trust. Reading Football Club are providing funding for Dan and Jade to complete their coaching badges, whilst they have also had the opportunity to gain other qualifications in first aid, health and safety, youth work and blind football to name but a few. This shows the power of the Trust’s activities in not only engaging and developing young people but helping create role models in the community from those it helps; Dan commented on this saying “You look at the kids and think we were like that” and this he said helps to relate to them and gains their respect.
It is clear what great work the Club and the Trust do in the community and both Dan and Jade praised the players for coming down and supporting their activities saying: “When players like Hope and Aaron come down it gives the kids a role model and it’s brilliant that they take the time out to come down here and see them.” While Dan said: “It’s nice to have the local players that play in the team come down and meet the kids because they realise they can talk to them like normal guys.” Joel, 13 who has been coming to the Youth Club regularly over the past year expressed his delight in meeting Hope and Aaron after already having the chance to have met Adam Federici on a previous occasion.
The Community Trust has a whole programme of activities available to young people in Reading and the surrounding area free of charge, for more information please visit the Reading Football Community Trust website.