The right to food- moving forward with our football for food campaign.

A blog post by Finola Fitzpatrick.

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I recently represented AFC Unity at a conference which presented the findings of the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty. Organised by Church Action on Poverty, it was fantastic to be among so many like-minded people who want to make a difference to their local community and tackle food poverty.

Something really interesting that came out of the Fabian Commission’s research is that not many people know they have a “right to food,” despite this right being enshrined in the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Although the right to food is not a legally enforceable right for citizens, the covenant places obligations on governments to ensure that everyone has access to food.

Chair of the Fabian Commission, Geoff Tansey, really emphasised how important it is to educate people about the idea of the right to food, and to empower them to utilise this right.

If one person told their friend about the right to food, and that friend told somebody else about it, we would live in a world where people feel inspired to pursue that right rather than feeling resigned to having little or no food.

The conference addressed that food is not only a basic human need, it is also a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 includes a right “to produce or acquire food in normal and customary ways.”

The Fabian Commission was established to look at the relationship between food and poverty in the UK. It asks how a fairer food system can be built that works better for people on low incomes.

The Commission proposed five long term principles in their final report:

1. Everyone in the UK should have secure access to nutritious, sustainable food they can afford,and nobody should live in a state of household food insecurity.

2. Food banks and other forms of charitable food provision should become unnecessary by 2020.

3. Decent work is the best way of achieving sustainable food security
for most households, but the social security system also has an important role to play for many both in and out of work.

4. The links between low income and diet-related ill health should be broken.

5. People on low incomes should be protected from price rises and other potential negative consequences arising from the essential action needed to address the long-term environmental, health and workforce challenges of the food system.

We were all split into small groups at the conference to discuss the findings of the Fabian Commission and practical ways forward to tackle food poverty.

This was most certainly the best part of the conference. It was an invaluable chance to network with people who are all also connected to the work of local food banks in some way.

I was extremely keen to discuss the work of AFC Unity and our football for food campaign.

The conference seemed really interested in how AFC Unity is using grassroots football as a tool for positive social change.

I am hoping that the conversations I had with people at the conference may lead to exciting new directions for the football for food campaign.

It definitely got me thinking about how AFC Unity can make a difference in educating people about the right to food.

Our football for food campaign encourages players, managers and members of the public to bring along donations of food to home games, which are then distributed to food banks across Sheffield via the Sheffield Food Collective.

We have collected as much as 50 kilos of food at our home games, and we are really excited about the future of our campaign.

The conference made me realise that there are endless opportunities for us to collaborate with other organisations to continue to make a difference.

Speaking of collaboration, it was fantastic to see Nick Waterfield from the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank and Laura Burn Acaster from the Sheffield Food Collective at the event.

They are two amazing supporters of our football for food campaign. We had some really interesting conversations about how we can continue to develop our work… Watch this space!

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The Fabian Commission talked about launching a national campaign challenging the issues surrounding food poverty.

They emphasised that while the campaign would be national, it would be very much built up and grown out of grassroots, localised community work relating to food banks.

They are keen to collate case studies from all over the country which showcase the positive ways in which communities can work together to make a difference.

This was really great to hear and got me thinking about how AFC Unity could take the football for food campaign to a more national level.

Perhaps other sports teams will read about how we are using football as a tool for positive social change and will be inspired to do something similar themselves.

The conference addressed how many parents are put in a position where they have to prioritise calories over nutritious food for their children as they do not have access to it, or simply cannot afford it.

Chair of the Fabian Commissio Geoff Tansey said: “The government has progressively outsourced its responsibilities over the last few years.

“The government cannot absolve its responsibilities or commitments to people who are suffering from food poverty.”

He went on to stress that the State should be doing more to challenge food poverty, rather than relying on the work of charities, food banks and other voluntary organisations.

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AFC Unity visited the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank a few weeks ago to see how their collected donations are making a difference to local people.

The experience was a real eye-opener for the players, as it made them realise how essential the work of food banks is to the local community.

While it was incredible for us to meet all of the volunteers who give up their time to help others, it left us feeling that the government needs to do more about food poverty rather than relying exclusively on the efforts of volunteers.

Attempts are being made to enshrine the right to food in Scottish law.

Backed by the Church of Scotland and political leaders, sustainable food group Nourish Scotland has launched a campaign aiming to give everyone a legal right to food.

Whether it would be feasible for this country to enshrine the right to food in law was also discussed at the conference.

With Christmas fast approaching, AFC Unity’s football for food campaign has taken a new direction.

Christmas is a season of giving, which is why AFC Unity is pushing for donations of food at home games now more than ever.

It is a time of year where food banks are in even higher demand, as families face additional pressures to provide for their children.

With this in mind, the club is seeking as much publicity as possible to raise awareness about a season of giving as well as a season of football on the pitch.

AFC Unity director and player Charlottte Marshall and myself were interviewed by local TV station Sheffield Live about the season of giving.

Alternative football club, donate food to tackle food poverty from Sheffield Live on Vimeo.

To read the full report from the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, click here.

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‘Tis the season to be giving

By Finola Fitzpatrick

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AFC Unity’s Football for Food campaign has taken a new exciting direction. For months now, players, managers and members of the public have been bringing along food donations to home games, which are then distributed to food banks across the city to help tackle food poverty.

But with Christmas fast approaching, AFC Unity is making even more of a push for food donations. With one in five Sheffield households suffering from food poverty, AFC is hoping to deliver a season of giving, as well as football.

Local TV station Sheffield Live came along to our home game on Sunday to interview us about our new season of giving.

Manager Jay Baker and player and director Charlotte Marshall featured on Sunday’s Sheffield Live news bulletin, discussing the importance of giving at this time of year…

Alternative football club, donate food to tackle food poverty

I also featured on Sheffield Live stressing the vital role of food banks in Sheffield.

AFC Unity recently visited the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank to see how our collected donations are making a difference to the local community.

Community worker Nick Waterfield told us that donations of food are even more essential during the cold winter months where there are additional pressures for families to provide.

With as much as 50 kilos of food being donated at any one home game, we are keen to continue our efforts and make as much of a difference as possible.

Manager Jay Baker said: “The enthusiasm of our players in tackling food poverty in Sheffield, as well as putting their tackles in on the pitch has just been fantastic.”

Up the Left Wing

by Jay Baker

I’m writing this one week after our incredible 3-2 upset over previously unbeaten Shaw Lane Aquaforce, who were at that point joint league leaders, in what was probably the best game of soccer I’ve ever witnessed in my life, because it had everything, from our opening goal one minute in, to going 1-2 down at half-time, to pulling equal, and finally clinching the winner five minutes from full time – you couldn’t have scripted a better fairy-tale, and a fine ending to our run of losses away from home which we knew didn’t reflect our quality, or the football we know we can force teams to engage in when on our home turf. But again, this season is about consolidation in the Second Division, as part of bigger plans for AFC Unity.

UpTheLeftWingGetting an organisation like ours off the ground in the grassroots game is always a challenge, and even more so when you’re anchored to your motto of ‘integrity’ and doing things the right way, rather than the easy way. Not everyone sees a football club as having a key part to play in its community, but for me that attitude is what’s allowed the sport to become dominated and damaged by profit, reducing it to a business, and disconnecting it completely from honest, decent working class people. That’s why we’re an alternative football club – and why we will keep our roots firmly in these areas.

The volunteering opportunities we provide exist as much to give back to the community as to help our organisation grow – such involvement is important for AFC Unity since our resources are limited, with no subsidies from a men’s team (when such clubs actually pass on any rewards reaped on to their women’s teams, which doesn’t always happen, by the way – they’re often treated like tokens to make money from). Every volunteer we take on has a goal in mind for how their own prospects can be improved by participating with us, and it just so happens that we have had top-notch volunteers such as the passionate Anna Pickering focused on sports psychology, knowledgeable Jarrod Skervin in sports physio, and sports journalist Finola Fitzpatrick, who’s been an absolute force of nature for us and really raised the profile of our Football for Food campaign.

The Football for Food campaign was originally my co-founder Jane Watkinson’s idea, as a simple bread-and-butter issue AFC Unity could tackle in a pragmatic way – dealing with food poverty in our city via our collaboration with Sheffield Food Collective and the backing of our sponsors, Nourish. It’s another reminder that, in the grand scheme of things, football isn’t the be-all, end-all, and should only exist because of community, not in spite of it. We’re here for what good we can do socially – and the more successful we become on the pitch, the more effective we’ll be at doing some good.

Probably the biggest supporters of the AFC Unity concept since day one have been South Yorkshire Sport who, more than any other organisation, have helped us avoid the collapse so many women’s teams succumb to, whether associated with a men’s side or not. No one has done so much to get behind the good we’ve tried to do, or to make sure we’ve kept going when we’ve felt browbeaten. Stuart Rogers, in particular, has been a guardian angel for AFC Unity, and I don’t mind saying it, and it was our director Anna Cordwell who first put us on to South Yorkshire Sport so we could connect with him. One thing he said recently was, ‘AFC Unity are developing good people, not just good players.’ One of his colleagues then backed up that statement by suggesting that this was essentially the USP of AFC Unity.

My dad – a former grassroots player and referee – always said that soccer tends to attract ‘really unintelligent, thick people’ at the top. And it’s true, because who in heaven’s name would want to take on a job as a player, contributing nothing at all to society than kicking a ball around a piece of grass? People do this stuff as a hobby; heck, our players actually pay to play! No, football should be about enjoyment, about covering costs and giving back to the community, and our players value that. Good people, not just good players.

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I see so many misogynistic managers who just don’t get women’s soccer, and instead use their teams as an opportunity to vent their frustrations after a long week, and regain some sense of power, and that aggressive attitude is reflected in turn by their players swearing, shouting and cheating on the pitch. I happen to feel like I have enough responsibilities in my working week without grasping for more power on a Sunday, or at training on Monday – you can’t have rights without responsibilities, and ultimately it’s the manager’s duty to take the flak when things go wrong (since he or she is coaching the players), but take the credit for when things go right? I don’t think so. I don’t see how that helps women’s football or how any manager can lead a women’s team without being a feminist. It’s about empowering these women, simply guiding them, but letting them enjoy their football and showing that it’s them – not some man – that are enacting plans on the pitch. It’s their game. They’ve stood in the shadow of men long enough, thanks, without me getting in there and making it about me. That is not why I do this.

The coaching approach I take is designed to reflect all this as well, and it’s one I’m happy to share, because I’d like to see it emulated more by those secure enough to take coaching tips from a lowly Level 1 like myself who isn’t one of those at the top, but comes instead from the bottom – the community sector:

  • Give good feedback but don’t single players out for heaps of praise; tell them aside on an individual level
  • Don’t pick out a ‘player of the match’; no one player ever has a good game without good players around them working hard as part of that team – collectivism, not individualism
  • If players all want to pick out a player they felt had a great game, encourage them to go and tell that player themselves; it’s an important part of the social aspect of a football team, too!
  • Call them training exercises, not ‘drills’; it’s football, not an army camp!
  • Use training exercises (!) that are simple to explain, and understand – and make sure players know why they’re doing them
  • Players can’t gain fitness through one-off sessions of off-the-ball action, they gain football fitness just by playing soccer regularly – the more time they have on the ball, the better, as each second counts in on-the-ball training and has a great effect on the player’s confidence
  • Never, ever, get on the ball yourself – of course, if you’re like me, you miss playing and love to play, but don’t: for every touch you have on the ball, that’s one a player could have had, and developing them is more important than you wanting a kick-about
  • Don’t talk too much – words are better in quality not quantity; they came to play and have fun, not listen to you show off how much you know about the game, so instead throw it out to them for their feedback too, since they’re the ones out there in the thick of it, not you!
  • Stamp out cliques at all costs – obviously, friendships are formed, and players have some things in common with some more than others, but when they play, they play as a team, and they’re there because they want to play for that badge
  • Keep boundaries in place: you’re their coach, but you have to get the balance right between being friendly and keeping a professional distance (and you should never look like you have favourites when you’re in coaching mode)
  • Keep all criticism constructive, i.e., ‘Try and remember to do what you usually do best; you haven’t done that as much today’ and ask them why – 100% positivity, no negativity whatsoever (it’s really not such a crazy idea)
  • Don’t encourage, accept, or allow cheating of any kind, ever, even if the opponents are doing it: if you play good football, you’ll win anyway – let the others cheat and try and sleep at night, since you’re a winner anyway if you always do the right thing

I’ll leave it there for now, but I thought I’d throw out there how our coaching approach is designed to reflect our ethos, and how in turn this way of doing things gets the ethos reflected by the players. It’s not for everyone, I know – some prefer screaming, shouting, intimidating, and see football as war, and to be fair, for some it might as well be since their jobs depend on it in big clubs. But I prefer hope over fear – football is just a part of society, and society needs a little more of that, don’t you agree?

Unity “absolutely overjoyed” after a spectacular 3-2 win against league leaders Shaw Lane

AFC Unity manager Jay Baker congratulating the team at the final whistle

AFC Unity manager Jay Baker congratulating the team at the final whistle

A blog post by Finola Fitzpatrick

After a 7-2 loss against Mexborough Athletic last week, AFC Unity bounced back on Sunday, in what was a truly remarkable game against joint league leaders Shaw Lane.

Unity manager Jay Baker said: “This game was really important, we felt we had turned a real corner in training this week, and a victory like this has been a long time coming.”

Team captain Jane Watkinson scored a fantastic goal within the first minute of the game, giving Unity an early lead.

By half time Shaw Lane was leading 2-1, but Unity’s spirits were still high as Jay gave a rousing motivational team talk to our players.

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In the second half Sophie Mills scored from a well taken corner by Shanie Donohue, making it 2-2.

Sophie Mills scores for Unity

Sophie Mills scores for Unity

Goal celebrations

Goal celebrations

In all the time I have been a sports journalist for AFC Unity, I had never felt so proud as I did at that moment.

Unity was living up to its name- showing real unity and solidarity on the pitch, working together and showing such determination to succeed.

Jodean Wadsworth scored an inspired goal, making it the winning score of 3-2.

AFC Unity always shows determination to succeed, but this game was just something else.

The atmosphere at the pitch side was just electric, and you could really tell that all of the players wanted a win after last week’s game.

This week’s home game also saw the return of our Football for Food campaign.

Thank you so much to everybody who came along and donated food- we had so much food at the end of the game that we didn’t know where to put it!

Your support will make an incredible difference to local food banks and will help so many people in the local community.

We were also delighted to be joined by Nick Waterfield from the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank which our campaign supports.

We had the pleasure of visiting the Parson Cross food bank on Friday.

It was fantastic to see first hand how our donations are making a real difference.

You can read more about our visit and the work of the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank here.

After the game everybody took to Twitter to celebrate the victory…

After this week’s win, here’s to the same next week!

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Unity in the community

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By Finola Fitzpatrick

AFC Unity recently launched a “Football for Food” campaign encouraging players, managers and members of the public to bring along food donations to football matches.

Donations are distributed to local food banks through Unity’s partners, the Sheffield Food Collective.

Everybody at AFC Unity is really behind the campaign- so much so that we wanted to have more of an insight into how our collected food donations benefit the local community.

On Friday I went along to the Parson Cross Initiative’s food bank with two of our first team players, Sarah Richards and Charlotte Marshall.

We were really keen to see for ourselves just how vital the work of food banks is to the local community.

As soon as we walked through its doors, we could see how welcoming the Parson Cross Initiative food bank is.

With a smiling volunteer offering us hot drinks, and a box of food labelled “help yourself,” we could see already how well the food bank reaches out to help the community.

We were particularly touched to see on our way in that the food bank was promoting a special “#Unityis” campaign for us on the day, inviting visitors to the food bank to write down what they think unity is.

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Nick Waterfield from the Parson Cross Initiative kindly showed us around the food bank, and we loved seeing the storage rooms where all of the donations are processed and sorted.

Although there were a lot of donations in the storage room, Nick assured us demand is always high, which means regular donations are needed.

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We explained to Nick that Unity loves using football as an instrument for positive social change, and that we are always keen to receive as many donations as possible to give to the food bank.

Nick said: “The football for food campaign is a brilliant thing twofold. The food donations are important, absolutely, and every bit of food we receive will be used. But it’s also about raising awareness and getting people to understand that this is such a wide-ranging issue which affects all kinds of people. It affects working people, people not working, sick people, well people, and people of all ages. Food is important, but it’s also about sending a message of solidarity and support out to the local community. When you get down to grassroots football, people still care. AFC Unity cares about the game but also the community it is part of.”

It was nice to hear how some of the volunteers are previous users of the food bank who now want to help people in a similar position.

I asked our players Sarah and Charlotte how they felt after seeing first-hand how our food donations benefit the local community.

Charlotte said: “It’s affected me a lot in the sense that I can’t believe how many people need the facilities, how many people need the food bank, and how much our food donations do help local people. It’s heartwarming to be able to see that even just as a football team there are so many things we can do to help in the community. Our football for food campaign is an example of how we can unify and do good in the community. It’s also been really nice to meet all the volunteers who give up their time to help here, to help people who need it. Especially at this time of year when food is even more important for people.”

Nick told us that one in three users of the food bank are children under the age of eighteen; a statistic which very much affected us when we heard it.

Sarah said: “It makes you realise that you can take things for granted, that you always have food in your cupboard, that you’re not struggling like a lot of people are. Children should have a childhood and not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. If you see the work of a food bank first hand, you can take it back to others and spread the word of how important donations are.”

Since the campaign launched I have been putting food donations in a box, which I have known will help people, but actually going to a food bank and seeing the visible difference it makes has inspired me to keep donating even more.

With one in five households in Sheffield suffering from food poverty, our football for food campaign is needed now more than ever.