In the UK we exist in a political system in which key decisions about our future are made by the oldest generation. Young people have grown up amidst the worst economic crisis for three generations, and are now facing a crisis where young people risk being further marginalised in our society, a ‘lost generation’ with further-reduced access to education, employment and training.
Young people in this same challenging environment need support to develop a creative voice with their own entrepreneurial identity, to build their idea for the future, valuing their creativity and ensuring that they can test, strengthen and realise their idea.
It has been developed to create just that: the capacity to ‘act and make a difference’. In our current cultural models, young people from inner-city areas in the UK are cast as the ones ‘needing our help’, rather than being the ones charged with the transformation of their communities. Giving ‘agency’ to young people, and working with them to turn their ideas into sustainable social enterprises makes this possible; to see young people as the solution rather than the problem.
Djibril Ayofe and Abdi Musse are an example of young South Londoners developing their own voice and using their unique experiences to make social change. Djibril and Abdi wanted to play football when they arrived in the UK (Djibril from Ivory Coast age 17, Abdi from Somalia age 10) but were excluded from local projects as they were struggling with English. Their desire for change came from feeling isolated as young people struggling to learn English in a new environment. They wanted other young kids to have a better experience than they had.
They knew from personal experience that language was one of the main barriers to connection for migrants and refugees entering the UK. Often, refugees will have their safety needs met, but without additional support to prevent loneliness, the lives of refugees are literally at risk, with loneliness now known to be a bigger killer than obesity. 1
They also knew that ESOL classes were frustrating and not always fit for purpose. Strong improvement requires dedicated hours of tuition, which many service providers simply don’t have the resource for.
So they developed Universal Language: I speak football. This is a football and learning group for young people who have English as their second language. The programme works with teenagers who are struggling in school to help them communicate with others and integrate through football, giving them the confidence to believe they have the potential to transform their lives. That they can have fun whilst learning new things.
The programme allows young people to come together, practice together, do something they love, and build confidence and skills to combat loneliness.
Now in its fourth year, the two have established links with South London Refugee Association, Football Beyond Borders, Katherine Lowe Settlement, and Amnesty International, and now have a partnership with Chelsea Football Club Foundation.
When I got to London it was tough at first, but Football made me feel home again. I wanted to help others in a similar situation. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what language you speak, when people say ‘come, play!’ you feel like you belong. It only takes a few sessions before you can say ‘pass the ball’ and talk about your favourite players.
It is a skill/tool that anyone from anywhere can take to any country. Everyone knows what it is. Football is a Universal Language.
I remember being afraid to make a mistake in my ESOL class because I couldn’t speak the language. Therefore it was hard to break that initial fear in order to improve. Other people felt like this, I am sure.
Football helped me change that. It’s helped me feel confident and comfortable around people, improve my English and make new friends.
Through all that experience I had an opportunity with the Agency to help other people. To make them not feel how I did when I first arrived in the country.
Football is the best tool because anyone can play football and love football. So that was my tool, and improving connections, confidence and creating friendship was my goal. From there, the project was born.
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