Watford has always been a football club for the community. During the early 1980s the club's community ethos really took form, driven by manager at the time, Graham Taylor OBE, with the full support of owner Sir Elton John.
As the first football club to include a designated Family Enclosure - and then a Family Terrace at Vicarage Road - Watford had created a revolutionary, fence-free hooligan-beating concept that soon saw many other clubs follow suit.
It didn’t stop in the stadium on a matchday, as Watford’s players were actively encouraged to engage with local people via appearances at community events and activities; the start of a tradition that is now ingrained within the make-up of the club.
And so the idea had been created and it began to pick up traction, as in the early 1990s one member of staff was tasked with increasing football participation in the community using Watford FC’s brand. It is this fixed point that brings about the celebration of the 25th year of Watford FC Community Outreach later this year.
The popularity and diversity of activities offered meant the initiative continued to grow and by 2002 it employed five full-time members of staff as well as a number of sessional coaches.
The community scheme not only encouraged participation in a wide range of activities, it also played an important role in addressing a range of social issues such as employability, inclusion and education.
As a result of the positive outcomes achieved, it was decided to turn the scheme into a charitable entity in order to take Watford FC’s community outreach programme to a new level.
Watford FC’s Community Sports and Education Trust was then established as a registered charity in April 2004 and since then its delivery and impact have continued to go from strength to strength.
A flurry of awards soon followed in recognition of the Trust’s outstanding work in the community; in 2006 there was success at the Sportsmatch Annual Awards, taking home both the 'Best Community Sports Project' and 'Best Overall Grassroots Scheme' awards. Then in 2008 and later on in 2010, the Trust ensured the Hornets were voted 'Football League Community Club of the Year'.
Next up for the Trust was an evolution in terms of positive engagement with local people, making the decision to invest in community hubs to directly interact with residents.
Cedars Youth and Community Centre in the London Borough of Harrow opened in 2012 and would go on to achieve the Gold London Youth Quality Mark in 2016. The Trust’s second project of this kind was the £1.8 million redevelopment of Meriden Community Centre in Watford, officially reopening in 2016.
Now, with a continual increase in workforce, project delivery, participation and positive outcomes, Watford Football Club’s Community Sports and Education Trust can be regarded as one of the country’s best community providers and is constantly seeking to drive that forward.
This commemorative year gives the football club, the Trust and all those who have been involved in projects or activities over the years the chance to celebrate in style. There will be a host of events and unique content throughout this season, so keep your eyes peeled and show your support where you can.