Norwich City's Regional Development Programme is busy preparing for the 2020-21 season after the coronavirus pandemic brought to an end their offerings last year earlier than anticipated.
canaries.co.uk recently caught up with its managing director Alex Kaufman to learn more about the programme, its links to the football club and what it offers:
First of all Alex, can you tell us a little bit about the RDP and the work you guys do?
The RDP, or the Regional Development Programme, is an organisation at the football club that operates outside of Norfolk. We oversee and run coaching and football services to children and young people across Cambridge, Suffolk and Peterborough.
We’ve been operating for around five years now, but over the last year or 18 months we’ve changed how we deliver behind the scenes and become more involved with the football club itself.
We’re self-sufficient as an organisation, we run very similar programmes, if not identical programmes to what the Community Sports Foundation deliver in terms of football development, with a pathway through to our football club.
The key for it really is to engage with children that might not necessarily know about Norwich City. We’ve got a diverse range of activities with three-year-olds right through to 19-year-olds and then into higher up staffing and recruitment and even university pathways as well.
As managing director of the RDP, you obviously have a hand in majority of the operations, can you tell us a bit about your career background? How did you join the RDP?
I was actually a part-time casual scout back in late 2013, early 2014. I was a scout in the Cambridgeshire area, so my main job was to go out on a Saturday morning and scout the under-8s age groups, which at the time was about ten or eleven leagues.
At the time it was split between two scouts. Any boys identified for the academy went into a local training centre and were given trials and that was run through our academy programme.
What we found was that boys who came in would train with us for six weeks on a trial basis, and if they weren’t deemed not to be at the level required at that time then there was nowhere else for them to go after.
It was an idea of the old head of academy recruitment, we sat down and discussed an organisation we could put in place to ensure we look after the community we work in. We’re seen as going into someone else’s area and there could’ve been a lot of bad blood, boys coming in and getting taken out of the programme. It was a way of looking after the children we work with on a long-term basis.
That then coincided with CSF to say if we’re going to run a football programme we need to think of the bigger picture in terms of the set-up to make sure that we’re working in schools, we have holiday courses, there are other avenues to go down rather than just talent ID and recruitment to really support and engage the community.
From that, I was in charge of the Cambridge area and built up my own programme and there was two other areas which were run in Suffolk and Peterborough. Over the last year they’ve now merged into one overall organisation.
The RDP is now embarking on a new era as we return to some form of normality, can you tell us what might be different?
Whereas the structure of the three areas was sort of staggered, so we all operated really well, we’re now operating under one banner.
We’re going to have more department leads in position behind the scenes, which will then allow the people on the grass to deliver to the highest level possible without having to worry about running home to do emails at ten or eleven o’clock at night.
The structure will allow us to be able to provide more opportunities and advance the programmes we’ve currently got and put more back into what we deliver. That’s not just for the children but upskilling the staff and having that framework to make sure they feel a part of Norwich City as well.
Am I right in saying that there’s a path from the RDP to Norwich city’s academy?
We’re really proud of our pathway of players. Between the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire area we’ve had over 30 boys sign for the academy since 2014 and that’s forever increasing.
We’ve had a lot of boys go through the system, many boys trial as well, so those that haven’t been successful have gone on to sign for other clubs. These are clubs that we work in their areas, they’ve gone on to sign for them.
Overall, it’s probably been around 60 boys in the last few years that have signed for Norwich as a priority, but then they’ve gone on to sign with category two and category three academies, with some going further afield to sign for other category one academies if they’re more local to those areas.
Have you got anything coming up that people may be interested in before this larger launch?
It’s been a difficult time and all of our programmes and services have been on hold, so we’re delighted to launch our summer programmes. We’ve got football and multi-sports camps, mostly across Cambridge and Peterborough at the moment, moving back to Suffolk in due course.
We’ve just announced a couple of weeks ago the 'Play the Norwich Way' camp, which fits our ethos of understanding the club and making people fall in love with the first-team and how an academy player might be identified and developed.
That’s an annual camp that only happens once a year, so we’ve got our Cambridge one at the moment that’s currently being organised to roll out in August.
From September onwards we’re back to our normal evening programmes, primary schools work and our football education programmes for the 16-19-year-olds who train and study at the same time. We’ve got loads going on, but summer is when we start with our courses.
What’s the goal for the RDP years down the line?
What we’re keen to do is ensure the areas we operate in are fully operational with a clean, clear structure. The quality of what we deliver is as expected of being a club like Norwich City.
We continue to have a pathway for boys and girls. The girls pathway is something we’re really pushing at the moment, which we’ve done over the years and it’s been okay, but we want to keep improving that as the girls game is growing at a rapid rate across the country.
That’s the port of call, to get that structure right. We have a strategy in place to eventually develop other areas, but they’ve got to be a right fit for the football club for a fanbase as it’s to engage future supporters of the football club and provide that positive role model.
It’s easy to look at the tables and say Norwich is the biggest club in East Anglia, we believe in that, we want to make sure that continues and the commute to Norwich is really easy.
That’s an ultimate aim, to increase fan engagement, continue the pathway for boys and girls, make sure our delivery style and ethos is strong and continue as an organisation to become self-sufficient.
We’re not funded by the football club or by CSF, we’re self-sufficient, so we have to keep making sure that what we do is good to keep us growing and improving every year.
Have you got a website or social media link people can use to find you?
Our website is www.canaries.co.uk/rdp. Our Twitter is @NCFCRDP, which is the same for our Instagram and Facebook.
We’ve also got a YouTube channel now, so you can regularly find out what we’re doing daily with our courses, good news stories and keep engaged with us throughout weekly projects and programmes we run.