Helping families achieve their goals

The organisation formerly known as Football in the Community has a new name, but the good work it does in Norfolk remains unchanged. Director Ian Thornton spoke to KEIRON PIM.

For more than two decades Norwich City's stadium at Carrow Road has housed a charity that helps adults and children across Norfolk to improve their health and self-esteem through playing sport.

Many people will be familiar with the name Football in the Community, a title that served its purpose, but in recent years failed to reflect the breadth of its activities.

Now there is a new name, the Community Sports Foundation, and the organisation is pushing forward with its new Sporting Light Fundraising Appeal. The aim is to raise �50,000 to help brighten people's lives through sport, by enabling the charity to do more work with disadvantaged people and those with disabilities.

Fundraising events so far include the 'Sportathon' in which various groups travelled the equivalent of the 108-mile distance from Norwich City FC to the Olympic stadium using sporting skills including throwing, jumping, walking, passing and dribbling. Norwich City stars Wes Hoolahan and Russell Martin spent an afternoon in Wymondham helping pupils at Robert Kett Junior School to participate, with the 600 children jumping their 108 miles out in the sunshine on the school playing field.

Then the sponsors joined Delia Smith and CSF representatives to present their cheques on the Carrow Road pitch at half-time during the Canaries' 6-0 win over Scunthorpe United last month .

The relaunch earlier this year also saw a host of well-known names come on board, with new CSF ambassadors including Sky Sports presenter Simon Thomas, the BBC's Jake Humphrey (both of them Norfolk-raised and Norwich City fans) and ex-Canaries Iwan Roberts, Craig Fleming and Dean Ashton.

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But within the day-to-day running of the charity little has changed. Since 2001, its director has been Ian Thornton, who played semi-professional football for local clubs such as Gorleston, Wroxham and Lowestoft and has coached schoolboys at the Norwich City Academy, helping to develop the talents of such current City players as Tom Adeyemi, Korey Smith, Jed Steer and Declan Rudd. He has seen significant changes in his time.

'My first involvement with what was then Football in the Community was at the age of 15 during work experience as an assistant coach on the very popular soccer school programme,' he says. 'Then there were two full-time staff. Today we have 51 full-time staff, 50 who are part-time or casual, and a growing volunteer fraternity.

'We deliver coaching sessions and engagement programmes for all ages, which are much wider than just football, which is many people's incorrect perception. Many of our coaches hold coaching qualifications in numerous sports.

'In our early days we used to be based in the Barclay End supporters' area. This meant we had to pack down the whole office the day before a match, put everything in a cupboard and set up again after the home game at Carrow Road! But to take a positive stance, this taught us to appreciate what we have currently got and to work smarter in certain ways at certain times.'

One of the main developments he has seen in his time is a growing appreciation of how sport can help tackle social problems and build people's confidence, giving 'real, positive life-changing experiences to people from all areas, abilities and backgrounds'.

At present, the charity works with 50,000 people a year, focusing on six areas: disability; community cohesion; sport; football; health, and schools and education.

As well as the Sporting Light appeal, the �50,000 target of which covers a cut in funding for the foundation's disability programmes, another focus for the coming months is the One Big Summer programme.

This is part of the government's Big Society initiative and is backed by government money. During the school summer holidays, 16-year-olds will take part in residential camps and complete 30 hours' volunteering in sports or creative arts-related activities, culminating in a graduation ceremony.

'The government spending cuts have affected everybody in some form or another, whether now or over a period of time,' says Ian. 'We have been fortunate through the Norfolk National Citizen Consortium to achieve government funding during this time for this exciting programme.

'This aims to be an excellent summer activity for current Year 11 school leavers.'

Most of the Community Sport Foundation's staff began their association with the organisation by attending events that it has organised in the past. Ian says that 84pc of the current workforce had done so as young people.

'Seeing people develop in this capacity is very rewarding both now and encouraging for the future progression of many of our current participants,' he adds.

Ian, who is aged 35, joined the organisation from college as a 17-year-old, having undertaken that work experience as a coach two years earlier.

He's married to Jackie, the foundation's funding development manager, and they have two children: Macey, aged three, and one-year-old Jimmy. As well as running the charity and coaching at the Academy, he also manages the Norfolk County FA under-18 squad, which has just reached the FA County Youth Cup Final for the first time.

Whether working with Norwich City stars of the future, local children taking part in soccer schools during the holidays, or therapeutic work with disabled and disadvantaged children, the common thread is using sport to enable people to reach their potential.

For more information see or telephone 01603 761122.