13th September 2023 – Over 150 people, including football legends, gathered at the Speaker’s House, Westminster, to celebrate a decade of work by London United, a collaborative network of 16 professional football club Community Organisations, including Watford Football Club’s Community Sports and Education Trust (Trust).
Representing Watford FC and the Trust were the Interim Chair of the Trust Simon Macqueen, Community Director Rob Smith, and Duty Officer at Cedars Youth and Community Centre Hollie Chappin. Joining staff were Watford FC legend Luther Blissett OBE DL, as well as a beneficiary of the Trust’s work in the community work, Eziafa. Eziafa, or Azi as known to the team at the Trust, is 15 years old and her involvement with the Trust started in 2019. She has been involved in the Premier League Kicks project taking part in regular dance and youth club activities. She has been involved in multiple social action projects and is a member of our Premier League Kicks Project Youth Board, ensuring the Trust delivers to the needs of local young people.
The event, which was presented by Olivia Buzaglo and supported by the Premier League, aimed to commemorate 10 years of collective community work – helping to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the city with a notable focus on employability, violence reduction and health and wellbeing – and included a pledge to keep growing partnerships to do even more in the future.
In a welcoming address, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle, praised the dedication and impact of the unique alliance, to the audience of club representatives, London borough councillors, members of parliament and notable figures who have supported or been a part of London United’s mission to improve the lives of Londoners.
Panellists included individuals whose lives have been changed through the clubs’ endeavours as well as Tottenham Hotspur Ambassador Ledley King, West Ham United Ambassador Carlton Cole, the Director of the Mayor of London’s Violence Reduction Unit, Lib Peck, and Regional Director for London’s National Health Service, Caroline Clarke.
Explaining his own motivations for supporting the work of Tottenham Hotspur and London United, Ledley King stated: “When I look at people in the Tottenham area, a very deprived area, I see a younger me and I think to myself where would I be without football, what opportunities would I have? It’s important for us as football clubs to visit these areas, be present and inspire. Show these young people, who believe that nothing good ever happens to people from these areas, that they can go on to achieve things with hard work and discipline.”
“I think sport and London United can, and does, play an incredible role in violence reduction,” said Lib Peck.
“Something that really stands out for me is the fact that a lot of the kids we speak to don’t feel that they matter or belong. Deprivation and alienation are key issues in our field of work and football clubs are a way of belonging and feeling part of something. That’s really important. It’s been great that we’ve been able to work with local clubs at a time where institutions are struggling for credibility, football cuts through that.”
“I’d like to work even more with London United. There are so many people who want to make London a safer place and collaboration across sporting organisations is absolutely a way to do that.”
Typically fierce rivals on the pitch, the clubs have harnessed the power of football to collaborate, share expertise, exchange ideas, and implement best practices since their official partnership, which was formed in 2013. Their collective aim: to address pressing issues and implement city-wide initiatives aimed at helping Londoners to thrive.
As part of the celebration, the clubs shared their annual impact, based on the 21/22 season, which consisted of working with over 240,000 Londoners, investment of more than £30m back into the city, and delivery of over 450 programmes in the capital.
Three participants from London United clubs also graced the stage and shared inspiring stories, demonstrating that the work of the collective reaches all ages. Firstly, Kyran, who found employment with the Leyton Orient Trust after being a participant in their Premier League Kicks programme. Eileen also told her experience, highlighting how she found a new lease of life after joining West Ham United Foundation’s ‘Any Old Irons’ project. Finally, Angel spoke about how she has helped a young participant find a better route in life through one-to-one mentoring with the Palace for Life Foundation.
Eileen admitted “10 years ago I was in a really bad way” as she recounted the role football has played in her recovery following reaching “breaking point” due to severe anxiety and depression.
“I read about West Ham’s Any Old Irons – we are a big West Ham family – I joined that and I’ve gone on leaps and bounds really.
“All the people that have joined are older – everyone’s experienced everything in life – and we’ve done really well with elderly men who have lost their wives.
“It’s just been wonderful, everyone has made friends and West Ham is like glue but once you come, you talk about different things, and it’s been quite amazing.
Other notable football attendees included: former Crystal Palace player Mark Bright, former Watford player Luther Blissett OBE DL, former QPR player Andy Sinton, former Chelsea player Paul Elliott, and representing Brentford on the night was a familiar face to Hornets fans, Marcus Gayle.
The professional football club Community Organisations that form London United are: Arsenal F.C., Barnet F.C., Brentford F.C., Charlton Athletic F.C., Chelsea F.C., Crystal Palace F.C., Dagenham and Redbridge F.C., Fulham F.C., Leyton Orient F.C., Millwall F.C., Queens Park Rangers F.C., Sutton United F.C., Tottenham Hotspur F.C., Watford F.C., West Ham United F.C., and AFC Wimbledon.
Freddie Hudson, Chair of London United and Head of Arsenal in the Community, said:
“It’s a 10-year celebration tonight but a lot of this work started, for us in the mid 1980s, for many of the other clubs it quickly followed, and that’s where we captured a lot of the learning: on the ground across our communities and building important partnerships. This work is tough and challenging. We couldn’t attempt to do it on our own, we need the partnerships to overcome some of the challenges that Londoners are facing.”
“We are hoping that the event has shined a bit of light on the work of London United and it might stimulate some thoughts on how we can extend that collaboration and deepen it further over the next 10 years.”
Commenting on the role of football across society, Dean Russell, Member of Parliament for Watford, said:
“It plays such an important role and I think the fact that the 16 football clubs have come together to work together off the pitch, obviously they’re going to be rivals on the pitch, but to work off the pitch to help communities, to inspire other people, to get involved, but ultimately to act as role models across our communities.”