News story

Norfolk initiative is recognised by Prime Minister

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

BlueCat Initiative uses football to provide homeless and most vulnerable with training and employment opportunities.

BlueCat Initiative, a community training provider which has used activities including football as a route to offer education and training, is the latest winner of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award. They have been recognised for empowering local communities by helping the homeless, vulnerable and deprived.

Blue Cat Initiative was formed in 2002 by Mike Smith-Clare and Franki Longman in order to provide accessible learning opportunities for the disadvantaged and under-represented in the Norfolk area. Blue Cat uses a range of innovative approaches to engage learners including photography, film, local history, community journalism, kite making and sport. The Street Life Soccer scheme, one of its many initiatives, has supported hundreds of homeless people through football since its inception.

Understanding that sport can bring people from different backgrounds together and help train those who are most vulnerable, in 2007 Norwich City Community Sports Foundation and BlueCat Initiative formed the Street Life Soccer project. Since then it has supported hundreds of homeless people to re-engage with their community, gain their first qualification and improve their health in the process.

Football is used as the tool to provide routine and discipline for participants. The project has helped those involved gain sports and educational qualifications, and they can also gain accreditation enabling them to mentor others, supporting their progression into further education, volunteering, training or employment.

The Street Life Soccer project:

  • works with individuals and groups who may be homeless, vulnerably housed, ex-offenders, or those who have other needs preventing them from accessing mainstream provision
  • provides football coaching and training accredited through the National Open College Network (NOCN) and Sports Leaders UK
  • was re-launched in 2012 after CSF achieved 5 years of Big Lottery funding and is still delivered across Norfolk by the foundation today

Over 500 individuals have taken part in Street Life Soccer, as a fully-funded project and participants have gone on to progress back in to full time education or employment.

Michael Douglas an ex-Street Life Soccer participant said:

I was living in a Norwich hostel after experiencing a job and relationship loss. I have now gained employment because of the skills I’ve learnt. Learning has helped me achieve my dreams of helping people and coaching and without it I would not be the same person I am today, and it makes me complete.

Congratulating BlueCat Initiative on the award The Prime Minister David Cameron said:

I would like to congratulate BlueCat Initiative for being the latest winners of the Big Society Award for the work they do helping homeless and vulnerable people.  This is a fantastic project which shows what a difference the inclusiveness and discipline of football can make to people’s lives.

Giving people to the chance to feel part of their community again doesn’t just benefit the individuals involved, the whole community is richer for their contribution.  I wish BlueCat continued success for the future and hope the initiative helps many more people who want to get on in life.

Co-Founders of Blue Cat Mike Smith-Clare and Franki Longman said:

Winning the Big Society award means a lot to us, particularly as it recognises the impact that quality training can have on local communities and the lives of those within them.

In Street Life Soccer, participants have the opportunity to set goals for themselves, no matter how big or small and are given the support to monitor their progression. As part of a rewards scheme, participants also have the opportunity to earn sports clothing, and play in local football clubs and tournaments.

We believe that by working collaboratively and focusing on lifelong learning, people can not only improve their own personal opportunities, but strengthen the community as a whole.

Notes to editors

For more information about Blue Cat please contact either Franki Longman or Mike Smith-Clare on: bluecat_initiative@yahoo.co.uk

For more information about the Street Life Soccer project, contact the CSF office on 01603 761122 or by email: info@communitysportsfoundation.org.uk

In 2009 the Street Life Soccer programme won the National Opening Doors to Adult Learners project of the year as part of NIACE’s Adult Learners’ Week becoming the first organization from the region to do so In 2011 we were awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service for our work with homeless people and in 2012 we became LSIS Provider of the Year for Promoting the Learner Voice.

As a National Open College Network (NOCN) centre they develop and deliver an extensive range of award winning programmes that have engaged and supported learners onto further training, volunteering, employment and independent living.

At the heart of delivery is a desire to listen to community and individual needs; and to establish a framework of support and further opportunity. Emphasis is placed on empowering people to make decisions relevant to their lives and futures; where skills are acquired and ownership of lifelong learning is encouraged.

They promote accessible learning across the voluntary and statutory sectors with beneficiaries including the homeless, vulnerable, NEETs, ex offenders and disadvantaged. We also offer professional development training and consultancy to the organisations that support them.

On the Big Society Awards

The Big Society Awards were set up by the Prime Minister in November 2010. The aim is to acknowledge individuals and organisations across the UK that demonstrate the Big Society in their work or activities. In so doing, the aim is also to galvanise others to follow.

The award focuses on 3 specific areas.

Outstanding Contribution to Community

  • people, projects and organisations that enable communities to drive change themselves
  • projects and organisations that allow the community to identify solutions
  • people, projects and organisations that inspire others to contribute to their community

Improving Lives and Society Through Innovation, Collaboration and New Partnerships

  • people and organisations taking new approaches to public services
  • successful collaboration and partnerships between public, private and voluntary sector - working together to benefit communities

Engaging in Social Action

  • people, projects and organisations taking action in their community
  • working together for social change (e.g. through creating groups, campaigns, movements)
  • generosity of time, money, skills and other resources - in support of social action

Launching the awards, the Prime Minister said:

There are some amazing projects and remarkable voluntary work going on in towns and cities up and down the country, by all kinds of organisations from large enterprises to tiny grassroots schemes and inspirational individuals.

These awards are a chance to pay tribute to those making a valuable contribution to their community, the real champions of the Big Society, but perhaps more importantly, I hope they will motivate many others to take action, get involved and drive change in their area.

Nominations come in from the general public after which there follows a process of scoring and short-listing by civil servants and a further short-listing by a Panel of Ministers and independent external experts. This Panel makes recommendations to the Prime Minister who makes the final decisions about who to make the award to. Twelve winners are decided each quarter meeting and then announced once a week throughout the year.

63 winners have been announced to date, including:

CREATE is a not-for-profit company in Yorkshire which delivers innovative training and employment opportunities for people who have been homeless, marginalised or vulnerable

Action Acton helps disadvantaged individuals get Education, training, self-employment and jobs. They help 3000 people a year in West London.

SportsTraider is a youth focused Charity offering youngsters the kit and support they need to get into sport. They encourage children to try new sports, and help talented sporting youngsters excel, whatever their background. 

SportsTraider tries to encourage kids and help them excel. making specialist clothing and equipment affordable to youngsters for whom such items would be inaccessible luxury. They channel the money we raise back where it belongs - into grass-roots sport for children and young people. SportsTraider uses proceeds generated from its retail units to fund coaching, access to facilities such as sports clubs and gym.