The Norwich City Regional Development Programme have continued their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even forming vital partnerships to better improve their work when back to normality.
Speaking to canaries.co.uk, the RDP’s Alex Kaufman and Matt Clements gave an update on their progress throughout the pandemic and what the future holds for the programme.
Canaries.co.uk: Last time we spoke back in August, we all seemed to be getting back to some form of normality, now we find ourselves back in another lockdown! How has the RDP continued their work throughout this lockdown?
AK: We returned during September/October time to deliver the remainder of our 2019-20 season, so we managed to squeeze that two-month period in. Unfortunately, we then went back into a second lockdown, before returning into lockdown again in December just as we started our 2020-21 season.
We’ve not had a clean break of working with our communities, but during the summer one area of engagement we are really proud of was our virtual sessions. We delivered them every couple of weeks, but throughout November and the last couple of months they’ve been weekly and daily. Matt has been working with our staff to make sure we run a variety of different sessions and sports, so it hasn’t just been football delivery and this has allowed us to work with hundreds of different children and young people we’ve never worked with before.
It will be fantastic if they join us when we come out of lockdown. The delivery has been exceptional and some of the content the staff have put together for the sessions has been superb with lots of positive feedback.
The sessions have been a huge positive in a really difficult period, allowing us to support families from an engagement and welfare point of view. We’ve also continued the delivery of our Post 16 Football and Education programmes alongside our partner colleges, continuing with home tasks, challenges and webinars to ensure they are still able to access their education and continue their own learning.
From an organisational point of view, lockdown has provided us a really good opportunity to develop our strategy and structure and continue to realign our visions and values to continue the footprint of Norwich City FC across the regions we deliver. There’s been a lot of good work going on and we’re eager to get back and deliver our sessions.
Canaries.co.uk: How has the engagement been for the RDP with the virtual sessions?
MC: I’m really pleased with this, I think our full-time staff have probably had enough of me talking about engagement and enrichment in our sessions, but they’re brilliant with it. It was hard for them, they came to us as coaches, and like many of us they didn’t know what Zoom and Teams were.
Our staff have been so good. I’m really proud of the engagement, I know when we go outside again, we’ll deliver good football and sport provision. I think what we’ve done is great. The feedback we’ve had has been class.
All of our invitation-only footballers are provided sessions every other week on a Saturday, we’ve had webinars, stretching and mobility sessions, guest speakers, drama, dance, fitness and we’ve delivered free PE sessions to lots of schools too.
I’m really proud of all of that. We’d love it if they joined us when we are outside again, but if they don’t it doesn’t matter because if a young person enjoyed an hour with us and had some fun, we’ve done our job.
AK: What a difference a year makes. I looked on our social media feeds and a year ago to the day our girls programme hosted and played in a tournament against Plymouth, Ipswich and West Brom. Now, there’s nothing going on.
I think the engagement has been successful, it’s been powerful, and that hour or 45 minutes can change a child’s day, or even a parent’s day if they need a rest from all the home schooling they have been doing.
To give back has been brilliant, it’s been really encouraging to see the staff be part of this and showing that passion to increase engagement. We’ve had some fantastic videos made and some other really good ideas, I’m really proud of everything.
When I look back from when the RDP first started, it was primarily football related. We still have those core programmes, however it has been pleasing to see the growth of further community activities and multi-sports to cater for more children and young people to be part of our programmes.
Canaries.co.uk: Over the weeks it seems you’ve been launching a few partnerships, what can you tell us about the relationships you’re building with these?
AK: It’s a part of my role I really like to see and get excited about. We have a varied range of partnerships which just provides so much opportunity for both the RDP and importantly the partners we work with. We’ve recently worked closely with the Football Club on the Junior Canaries membership, which shows our intention to ensure even more opportunity for children to be part of Norwich City Football Club. It’s something we feel strongly about, to help the club achieve and increase the fanbase further outside of Norfolk, bringing the children we work with closer to the club is key for us.
As part of this, we offer discounts and opportunities to be a part of our community or weekly skill centres/ sports camps. That’s been massive to continue to link our weekly coaching and embed the Club in our delivery for football mad children.
MC: The key partnerships we currently have now are with Bishop Laney Sixth Form College, Impington Village College, Cambourne Village College, and Thomas Deacon Academy.
They’re all massively important to us, and we are keen to continue to grow and work in collaboration with them. In terms our latest partnerships, we are delighted to work with Haverhill Rovers Football Club, from a female football provision point of view, they’re doing a fantastic job there.
We’ve gone into a partnership with them, where we’d look to provide an elite girls football programme, which is great because it’s one of the best facilities in the area. It then means we can help and support each other, we can use their fantastic facility, they’ve also got a great girls programme there, so we can look to support potential progression from our side but provide opportunities for their pathway.
On top of that, we’ve got the opportunity to work with them in supporting their staff. We’ve not had much to do in these times, but it’s there to establish and go forward.
In the last few weeks we’ve also got an additional Football & Education programme at Stratton Upper School in Biggleswade, which is superb. It then means we can add to the other college provision we offer, and being our fourth scheme allows us to continue to provide exit routes for 16-19 year olds, which is huge in the Bedfordshire area.
We’re looking forward to going outside and having trials for all our Football and Education programmes, but Stratton and Haverhill have certainly been a fantastic addition of late.
AK: In terms of partnerships, we’ve also got our continued partnership with Histon Football Club through our EJA Partner Club Programme.
When we last spoke, we only just started the pre-season with those groups, it’s been a really strong start for the 13s, 14s and 16s over there. We have a created a good relationship with the Club, and Mark Pleasants, the Head of Youth has been exceptional; we work really well together so it’s another positive joint-venture.
Histon FC get a variety of benefits from the package, some of which haven’t happened yet because of COVID, but they’ve been pencilled in! The management and coaching side that’s been implemented there so far has also been brilliant, and has catered well for some excellent young male footballers in the Cambridgeshire region to train and play together competitively.
For us, it’s the positive environment we are able to create, and we’re seeing some good outcomes with some of the boys already, with one boy signing with an academy. Some of the U16s have been part of the U18s in the FA Youth Cup and a number of the U16 boys who are also part of some of our other RDP programmes have had opportunities in Academy led events with us at Norwich City FC.
We can’t wait to get back to delivering across our regions, and there will be plenty more opportunities, events and partnerships on the horizon as we head further into 2021 and into 2022.