FROM the high of winning the Scottish Cup in a gripping final against Hibs to the low of fighting for the club’s very survival, there is no doubt it has been a roller-coaster year for Hearts.
There was mass elation in May after the men in maroon beat their old rivals 5-1 at Hampden. Just six months later, the Jambos were to face one of the darkest days in their history after the owners admitted the club might fold when it was issued with a winding-up order over a tax bill totalling almost £450,000.
But behind all the turmoil one thing has remained unchanged and largely unheralded despite Hearts high profile. The Big Hearts Community Trust, a charity that works in partnership with the football club, has been quietly working away on 19 different programmes which have helped a total of 13,000 people in 2012.
One of the main aims of the Trust is to create more confident, healthy and safer communities in the Capital by developing sporting and other activities.
During the year, the trust has offered services as diverse as drumming and guitar tuition for children and young people, to a health and fitness project aimed at overweight fans.
The biggest success story of the year, though, was linked to the club’s own high point – the winning of the Scottish Cup in the first all-Edinburgh final in 116 years.
“It was one of the most famous victories, the biggest Edinburgh derby ever,” says Big Hearts chief executive Alan White. “A lot of fans were buoyed by that.
“We decided we didn’t want this cup sitting in a cupboard gathering dust. It’s the oldest trophy in the world. It’s 139 years old. We wanted it out in the community, out to sports groups, local schools and clubs.”
The trust came up with the idea of a Scottish Cup Road Show which involved players taking the trophy out to local schools – with striker Callum Paterson visiting his old school in South Queensferry, Scott Robinson going to Cuiken Primary School in Penicuik and Andy Webster going to Liberton Primary School.
Having contacted primary and secondary schools in Edinburgh, word soon spread to the surrounding local authorities and in just three months the players and cup visited 35 schools as well as two local authority headquarters and two care homes.
“Once the trophy went out, teachers realised how very iconic it was,” says Alan. “We had primary schools and high schools phoning us up to go to the school. We would say every kid is entitled to get their photo taken with the cup. It doesn’t matter what team they support.
“From P1 to P7, all the kids were turning up with their scarves and football strips. Everybody was getting their photo taken with it, even the teachers. Sometimes we would be coming out and there would be parents waiting in the playground to get their photos taken with the cup.
“The icing on the cake was almost every Hearts football player did a visit with children. In terms of engagement, it’s been the best programme we have done.”
The roadshow allowed the charity – which was originally set up in 2006 as the Heart of Midlothian Education and Community Trust – to spread the word about its community programmes to 10,000 pupils, who were then each offered a voucher for two free tickets to a Hearts home match.
These include a community programme run in partnership with the Scottish FA which uses the power of football to get children in Primary 2 and 3 active, to a six-week programme of coaching for Primary 3 and 4 pupils tied in to lessons on hygiene and food preparation.
In addition, it helped the charity build on, and in some cases create, relationships with schools, paving the way for future partnerships. “The opportunities now, because we have created such fantastic relationships with local primary schools andhead teachers, is phenomenal,” says Alan.
A new programme due to be launched in April next year, following a £50,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, is a stadium tour and education resource based around the history of Tynecastle.
“We will engage with more schools, teachers, community groups and supporters, get them into Tynecastle and show them how they can be involved with the club,” says Alan. “Schools will come along and we will do some projects surrounding the tour. We want everyone from P1 to P7 to come in. There will be a tour appropriate to their needs which might be dependent on what they are learning in the classroom.”
Meanwhile, work continues on developing existing programmes, including the Hearts Music Project which has provided informal tuition for 420 young people in a music suite at Tynecastle over the last year, and the Football Fans in Training, a nationwide health project for overweight men between the ages of 35-65, aimed at increasing physical activity, improving diet and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Lawrence Broadie, who is on the board of trustees, says: “There are lots and lots of different things. The key message is the sheer breadth of experience the children and young people in particular are involved in. It’s not just about balls, bibs and markers which football clubs are usually known for.”
For Alan, rather than diminishing the club, the recent problems faced by Hearts have in fact helped strengthen it. “It’s actually helped a lot of supporters come a lot closer to the club,” he says. “Lots of supporters have done fundraising events. It’s made the club stronger.
“While this was going on, we were in the middle of doing the roadshow events. Community groups and schools thought it was great we were still going out there trying to bring the cup out, bring players out. Sometimes there’s a lot of opportunity in difficulty. There are lots of good positive spin-offs.”
Proof of the pudding is in the work that has been done by Big Hearts in the last year, which is highlighted in its newly released annual report.
“We have got a club that is part of the community,” says Alan. “We’re not just saying we’re a family club. We’re talking the talk and walking the walk.”
From football for three-year-olds to school breakfasts
Catering for around 20 three to five-year-olds every week, Tynie Kickers offers one hour of basic movement and ball skills.
The Onside programme is run in partnership with East Lothian Council to inspire and motivate young people who have been involved in antisocial or criminal behaviour. Around 100 people have taken part in the programme, which consists of theoretical content, music tuition and coaching sessions at Tynecastle.
Aimed at fourth and fifth year school- leavers, this project aims to motivate students who have become disengaged from education and need help preparing for work or training after school. Run with the support of Midlothian Council, it has helped 24 students.
Advanced Academy & Goalkeeping School
These sessions are open to young players involved in local school or club teams. All players receive a training kit as part of their subscription, with 22 players attending the advanced sessions every Friday afternoon and 18 registered for goalkeeping coaching.
Saturday and Sunday Skill Schools
Both these one-hour sessions are open to children aged between five and 12 and run during the school terms at the Hearts Football Academy, attracting a total of 50 youngsters.
In association with the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the trust uses physical activity to help 12 people with mental health issues move towards employment.
AEGON Breakfast Club
The trust has continued with its work developing the AEGON Breakfast Club initiative aimed at providing a nutritious start to the day for primary school children in Edinburgh.
This initiative provides an opportunity for young club and school teams to participate on the pitch at half time during matchdays.