“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

The Case for Bury FC

It takes collaboration and partnerships across communities to develop better skills for better and healthier lives. Towns and communities can be viewed like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with shops, businesses and different organisations neatly fixed together in an interesting supply chain. But what happens when one piece becomes dislodged?

What is the impact on the local and wider community? For 134 years Bury Football Club based on Gigg Lane has been the heartbeat of the town. But it would be wrong to assume that all activities stop when the cheering dies down and the flood lights are switched off. Let’s take a look on the other side of the turnstiles and consider the partnership and collaboration working between Bury Football Club and other parts of the community.

The ground is used by Focus Rider Training, which offers bespoke motorcycle training courses, teaching the theory to on-road training. The Social Club, which is a hub of activity on match days, has a variety of other usages. Amongst the many activities one is to provide a safe space for Mental Health Support Groups for ex -service personnel. In June 2019 Bury FC became involved in the Sporting Memories Project, which makes use of the rich heritage of sport to help people who have been diagnosed with Dementia, Parkinson’s and other mental Health issues which impact on loneliness.

Bury Football Club is clearly a community-based club, offering opportunities and aspirations through a wide range of sporting teams of all ages, visits to local schools, a Youth Club, Blood Donation schemes and other links to the NHS.

Forever Bury was formed in July 2002, after the club was placed into administration. The main objective of Forever Bury and other supporters’ trusts is to provide a vehicle for fans to influence the running of their club. This is achieved by a variety of methods, including fund raising to buy shares in the club and seeking direct representation on the board of directors.  The main aim of Forever Bury is to work towards a healthy community football club both on and off the pitch. It is also acknowledged that there is a lack of trust between supporters of football clubs and the major football institutions. The work undertaken by supporters’ trusts can clearly help to promote more trust between the major agencies involved. Age has no barrier for Forever Bury, they have a thriving Junior Shakers section, sponsor Bury FC Disabled Supporters Club and have a chosen annual charity.

An important part of the club is Bury FC Community Trust, which is an independent organisation representing Bury FC within the community. The main aim is to use football; and sport to provide a range of opportunities to improve health and fitness, develop educational opportunities and to engage with “hard to reach” and excluded communities. There is a clear vision of promoting diversity and inclusion via their various projects and activities. Since its formation in 2007, the Charity has supported over 150,000 people each year across different programmes. The objective is to tacking social isolation, supporting healthy lifestyles, improve academic achievement, and employability and to reduce anti – social behaviour. The Trust works with 45 schools across the borough and sessions are designed and developed towards the guidelines set by the National Curriculum. This clearly is an interesting way to motivate children in Maths, English and PHSE sessions.  It comes as no surprise that in 2012 The Bury FC Trust was voted the Football League North West Community Club of the year.

It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives. In 2012 the Elite Player Performance Plan was introduced by the English Football League.

The aim was to create a world leading Academy system, creating more time for players to play and be coached and improving coaching provisions. Bury FC Academy Department has achieved national recognition, especially after the Under 18s reached the quarter finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2018/2019 season. The reputation of the Academy was acknowledge when it was awarded Category 3 status after being independently assessed and meeting quality assurance requirements. 

Over the past five years 25 players have progressed from their academy to make debuts for the first team. However, the academy was closed down in August 2019, which impacted on staff and young people involved. The academy had in the region of 140 players attached to it from the age of 8 – 18. In 2018/2019 there were 16 full time youth players, all on football league contracts running in tandem with the League Football Education System. So where have these young players gone?  The 16 youth players are all on trial or have signed contracts with new clubs. Basically because of the present situation with the club, no money can be received for these young players. Hence the Youth team have lost well in excess of £1 million in transfer fees. Added to this is that all Academy children age 8-16 have had to leave, losing a potential £500,000 in transfer fees. Where is the real fairness of treating the Academy team in this way? The hopes dreams and aspirations of young people have been seriously affected.

The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears and score your points when you get the opportunity. Bury Football Club, like many other lower league clubs, serve the local communities and towns. They boast great traditions and histories, and clearly offer a sense of community cohesion and a sense of identity, which is too important to lose. No individual is bigger than their football club, owners and players come and go, but traditional football clubs remain and are an important community asset.

So having examined some of the work and connections within the local and wider community, it’s important that the broken jigsaw puzzle is not put back in its box, we need to make the future a reality with a shared belief in the vision and aims.  There are clearly great challenges ahead, we need to explore meaningful change and realise the true potential with a community based football club. The Mighty Shakers are too important to lose!

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