July Club of the Month!
St Agnes AFC have been at the heart of their community for more than a century and the club’s inclusive disability football programme has seen their impact hit new heights.
For club chairman Mandy Kimmins and Hailey Collins, lead coach of the disability squad, the club ethos – ‘everyone is welcome, everyone can be included, everyone can play football’ – is consistently at the heart of everything they do.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the club’s disability team and the St Agnes family pulled out all the stops during lockdown when isolation hit the players hard.
Physical challenges raised valuable funds to keep membership costs down, coaching staff hosted regular Zoom meetings while a 15-year-old from the club’s youth set-up compiled hand-written notes featuring magazine cut-outs and bespoke messages to each player to maintain a vital social connection.
“We know that with our players, if they don’t have their normal routines, they probably won’t do anything, so we wanted them to do a little bit of fitness and keep them doing something,” Collins said.
“We set up a challenge and had players, walking, running, cycling – whatever they could do, to try and raise some money.
“Each day the players sent in their competitive stats and gave us evidence around what they had been doing with pictures, so we had loads of engagement through that.
“It raised money for the club but also kept the guys doing fitness and staying in touch even during lockdown.
“I think it is really crucial for them to stay active. They don’t always realise the wider benefits of fitness, but if they don’t keep to their routines, it stops their mobility and their ability to return to normal after lockdown.
“We have one player who really struggles with being mobile but even he was able to do some kind of walking, and it was great to see all the places he went walking. It gave us some kind of normality.”
Such a heavy involvement with the club has also given Collins a new lease of life since her return to a game she thought she had left behind.
“I have come back to football, which isn’t my first sport, but personally I have managed to gain qualifications, volunteer and get a really nice buzz from it,” Collins said.
“To have an impact on people you wouldn’t meet in an everyday normal job is something that has been really beneficial to me.
“They have enriched my life. I always look forward to seeing them and hearing what they have been up to.
“St Agnes harnesses so much more than just football, it also includes everybody that wants to come along.
“It is not just ‘come and play football’, it about making friends and being part of something.”
Having a coaching team capable of working with a whole range of disabilities and ages is vital to the success of the programme.
The club pays for and supports players of all ages in completing their FA Playmaker, Level 1 volunteering and coaching programmes which instil the highest values for respect of difference, skills on teaching and managing others.
And the heartening efforts of all at St Agnes have been rewarded through being named the Parasport Club of the Month for July, an honour Kimmins is delighted to hold.
“This club means an awful lot, not just to me, but to all the players, volunteers, coaches and managers, everyone who has been part of this journey,” she said.
“When I joined 18 years ago, we had two adult sides and one youth team. Over the last year we have had 34 teams, including our amazing disability set-up.
“To win this award is a massive recognition of all the work our team have put in, to create an inclusive club that welcomes everybody and gives everybody the opportunity to be part of something really special.”
For more information on St Agnes AFC and how to get involved, click HERE