Nearly ten years ago a small charity with a big dream put its roots down in north Edinburgh.
With ambitious hopes to use the power of sport to make meaningful difference in a community, Spartans Community Football Club has grown into an exemplary project in the world of sport for change that is lauded internationally.
For kids, young adults, volunteers, adults and employees the project, run as a social enterprise, provides facilities and opportunities for health and education in a safe space.
CEO Douglas Samuels said sadly the stories that come out of north Edinburgh are negative – the motorbike epidemic, issues with antisocial behaviour or substance abuse.
“There are so many good things and so many people that are working really hard to create the best start for children and young people,” he said. “It starts with our purpose and vision which is to redefine what is possible for a football club in terms of community engagement, so that creates an energy and a sense of purpose within an organisation that we want to do as much as we can to improve the quality of lives of the people in this community.
“I’m certainly not about glamourising poverty – far from it.
“One of the challenges and one of the reasons we exist is to provide opportunity.
“We do a whole sea of different things across a number of areas.”
Spartans provides services from breakfast clubs launched by ambassador chef Tom Kitchin, to youth football coaching, homework clubs, Connections para football, evening social clubs and girls only training sessions amongst many more.
The programme is constantly developing and responding to the needs of the local community.
“One of the signature programmes is Street Soccer in a Safe Place, which runs regularly, providing space for kids to come and play football after school and at weekends, free of charge.
Douglas added: “We have prided ourselves on the fact that children can come and play here for free every day. It’s safe, it’s clean, it’s modern – they get to play at a place where they can also make new friends but you’ve also a relationship between the young people and the members of staff.
“I think that relationship is critical – we’re trying to achieve what I would call meaningful change and trying to influence people’s lives in a positive way.
“For that to happen it’s been recognised that a human connection has to exist so you have to have a trusting relationship between your members of staff and the people who use the facility.”
Semi-pro senior football team Spartans Football Club play at the Ainslie Park based grounds helping to fund the work that is done to promote community engagement.
Douglas explained: “Spartans Football Club pays to use the facilities of the community club – which is incredible. It’s the team’s home but it is shared by everybody. We don’t have a charity renting the space from a football club. We have the charity running the space.”
“If we thought at the start of this journey that this small non-league club from north Edinburgh would have such a wide and diverse impact, I think we would have pinched ourselves and wondered – how will we do that?”
The environment at Spartans’ club encompasses the ethos values of integrity, inclusion, respect and honouring uniqueness.
Douglas finished: “We are in a position where we’re very, very fortunate – we get to help people and there is real value in that and you never know who you are helping
“A teacher never knows when their influence ends and it’s a bit like that for us.
“We treat people with respect each and every day, with focus around being inclusive, non-judgemental and our door is always open.”
Sportscotland chair Mel Young, said: “Sport has real power at grassroots level, there are thousands of examples around the world where sporting initiatives have created real and lasting change. The work being done at Spartans is a shining example of how sport can change lives, that is testament to the terrific efforts of Douglas Samuel and everyone involved with the club.
“That is a great milestone for a club that has done so much for its local community and I look forward to seeing its positive impact for many years to come.”