Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has teamed up with a local charity to deliver free sports sessions to children from deprived areas of Edinburgh over the summer holidays.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Edinburgh Helping Hands community organisation, is to offer structured workshops in football and boxing fitness run by trained coaches to boys and girls aged eight to 16.
Starting today and continuing over the course of six weeks, the sessions are designed to reach children from marginalised communities whose families cannot afford conventional coaching classes.
Welsh, who is partly funding the project, said: “I’m from the schemes and I know how easy it is through boredom to get up to nonsense which seems harmless fun at the time but can escalate to mess up your own life and other people’s.
“Not everyone is turned on by the middle class attitudes and norms of school and the education system. But sport has a wide reach and installs discipline and camaraderie as well as developing fitness. It helps produce good citizens and we will need as many of those as we can get for the challenges ahead.”
Helping Hands volunteers, who have already transformed parks in Leith, Moredun, Muirhouse and Wester Hailes into suitable playing pitches, will organise sessions with the support of local amateur clubs and community coaches.
Meanwhile, Boxing Scotland accredited coaches will run classes in areas such as Portobello, Gorgie, Sighthill and Gilmerton keeping children “fit, active and healthy”. Boxer Bradley Welsh, one of the organisers, said: “Frontline services for sport have been cut – kids are becoming alienated from their community centres because activities are increasingly run as commercial ventures. A lot of people do good work in these communities, but they’re understaffed.
“So we’re going to be running six football sessions and 12 boxing sessions a week around the city.
“We’re teaming up with great people to offer kids the chance to have fun, learn some skills for free and get some healthy fruit while they’re at it.
“The boxing will be non-contact – no one’s hitting each other as it’s all punching bags and pads, but it’s therapeutic and engages the brain.”
With Irvine Welsh’s backing, organisers now hope to build on the success of last year’s community football programme in which thousands of youngsters participated. The programme culminated in September with a showpiece festival in The Meadows attended by football stars such as Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths and then Rangers player Kenny Miller.
Organisers confirmed they intend to host a similar event this year with the possibility of expanding the programme around Scotland in the near future.
Nadine Blair said her two sons, nine and 11, participated in the football festival last year and were keen to be involved again. She said: “When they did the football last year, they loved that, and would love to go again this year. These events are so positive – they keep kids off the street, which is good for parents on low incomes, and it cuts crime for young ones.”
Details are available at facebook.com/EdiHelpingHand.