Leeann Dempster: We’ll show football can be a force for good

Leeann Dempster. File picture: Lisa Ferguson
Leeann Dempster. File picture: Lisa Ferguson
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FOOTBALL isn’t just Scotland’s national game – it’s our national obsession.

Consider this statistic: one in 48 people living in Scotland pass through their club turnstiles every match day. That’s an incredible number. Then add to that the acres of daily column inches, hours of weekly broadcast coverage, and endless digital media coverage that football spawns.

What does this mean – apart from the fact that we are, genuinely, fitba’ daft? It means our sport has a unique opportunity to reach out to people and communities in a way that nothing else can. And at the moment, we don’t do enough with that potential.

At Hibernian, we want to change that. This club, which has pioneered so much in the game, now wants to be pioneering in our wider society. That is why we are all so excited about our new GameChanger partnership.

The GameChanger Public Social Partnership (PSP) is an exciting first for Scottish football, creating an innovative pilot that can help Scotland’s “national obsession” work with Government, statutory bodies, and the third sector to change Scottish society for the better.

The three founding partners are Hibernian FC, one of Scotland’s biggest and best known clubs, Hibernian Community Foundation, and NHS Lothian. More than 100 other organisations have signed on as interested parties, and these include City of Edinburgh Council, Midlothian, East Lothian and West Lothian councils, Edinburgh College, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh Napier University, University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, Police Scotland and a host of other private, statutory and third sector organisations.

The aim – to harness the power of football to tackle social inequality and deliver positive health, learning and social outcomes – is of huge interest to policy-makers and influencers. We hope to tell as many of our elected representatives as possible all about GameChanger in the coming weeks, starting with a Parliamentary Reception at Holyrood on March 16. Several MSPs, notably Iain Gray who chairs our Community Foundation, Kenny MacAskill, Keith Brown, Jamie Hepburn, Malcolm Chisholm and Kezia Dugdale have already taken a keen interest. We know that the Scottish Government, at ministerial level, are following things closely.

The Scottish Football Association is also watching keenly and has been supportive at the highest level of the GameChanger approach, believing the PSP potentially offers a new way forward for Scottish football to engage in a more planned and meaningful way with the wider community.

So what are we actually trying to do?

Discussions to create a vibrant health and social care hub at Easter Road Stadium – with a brand new approach to delivering primary care are well under way, as are plans to create a centre for families and children in crisis at the club’s East Lothian training centre. Other major projects are in various stages of planning, including a major community growing project, and a state of the art learning and innovation environment.

There are smaller, roadmap projects also – things like our ongoing partnership with the NHS Living it Up team to deliver health awareness and health checks for supporters on matchdays at Easter Road; our ever-growing ability to encourage greater participation in sport through our community football programme; and our work in supporting suicide prevention through the Choose Life campaign.

These are exciting times at Easter Road – on and off the pitch.

• Leeann Dempster is chief executive of Hibs