Because we don’t provide hostel accommodation or housing.
We don’t deliver planned support.
We don’t provide drug or alcohol rehab.
We don’t provide outreach to rough sleepers.
So, what’s the point of us?
Before I explain, let me just say this – since 2003 when SFW was born, it’s been a project that’s almost impossible to describe. Unless you’ve been involved or come and seen the project in action, you’re likely to be a bit confused. Sceptical even.
SFW exists to help tackle social exclusion. It’s not a project for a particular age group, gender or ethnicity. It’s not aimed at a specific ‘client group’ such as offenders, people experiencing mental ill health, homeless people or those who are economically inactive.
SFW is for everyone who’s experience of living day to day involves feelings of being socially excluded – whatever that may mean to each person. Yes, of course, being socially excluded probably means experiencing some of these ‘labels’. And yes, because SFW was born from having been at the first ever Homeless World Cup, homelessness is one of the more prevalent experiences of people involved.
But this doesn’t mean that we pretend to exist to solve any of the challenges people face, and we don’t pretend to exist in order to save anyone from their problems or experiences.
We exist to accommodate a little bit of escape from the crap, in an environment where it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you’re going through or even whether you’ve kicked a ball before. You won’t be asked about your ‘needs’ and there won’t be a sniff of a star chart, assessment form or support plan anywhere!
At a match day, training course or other activity, you will be treated first and foremost as…. drumroll…. PEOPLE! Hopefully you’ll get to know each other, and we will get to know you and then as a community of SFW staff, volunteers, players and visiting organisations we will support, encourage and lift each other. We can provide some opportunities that might have a positive impact on the course of your life, or which might just help kill time.
Some people will participate with SFW for a season at most – come to league match day’s and that’s the extent of it. Others will be around for maybe a couple of years. Start with playing at match days, dip a toe in some of the training offered and perhaps get selected to play at a tournament or two.
Then there are the ‘veterans’ of SFW – people for whom the project becomes a part of their lives throughout their personal journey. The long-term volunteers, players whose road to recovery is lengthy (with a few detours en route!), people who are in employment and who use annual leave to attend match days.
At SFW we don’t mollycoddle. Make your mistakes, take the consequences and grow from the experience. We don’t make excuses for aggressive, discriminatory or disrespectful behaviour – although we often understand where this comes from and will listen to what people need or want in order to change, we don’t patronise or pretend to have all the answers.
What we DO is believe in you. That you can change (if you want to); that you can play football; that you can control your anger; you can lay off the drink or drugs; you can join a mainstream sports team; you can learn and get qualifications; you can volunteer or work; you have got skills; you have got potential; you are interesting; there is hope!
We understand the domino effect of developing self-esteem… physical activity, training, volunteering and being part of something are all things that are recognised as having a positive impact.
But there are also other things – being listened to, being believed in and having the courage to try things. Being allowed to learn from mistakes, feeling welcome and respected, building friendships and being able to help other people – these all give us feelings of self-worth. As a project we are always learning and improving from our own mistakes and feedback too.
SFW is also the organisation that selects players to represent Wales at the annual Homeless World Cup tournament, Again, this is something that can be hard to understand without having experienced it in some way.
Playing for your country at any level in any sport is a huge achievement and a real honour. There’s something extra in doing so whilst dealing with homelessness and any or all of the associated challenges.
We know, having seen first-hand over 16 years, that being a Welsh Dragon or a Welsh Warrior (the names given to the male and female international teams respectively) is life changing. It doesn’t always mean coming home from a tournament and life being all sunshine and rainbows and often people will return to their lives making no real immediate changes at all, but even then it will have been worth it.
How? Because in the build-up, during training and at the tournament itself, players will have been seen as footballers. Not people with ‘issues’, not ‘clients’. Just footballers. They will have broken out of their comfort zone and succeeded in facing some seemingly impossible physical and mental challenges, and somewhere along the way, those experiences, the resilience and strength needed to face them, will be called upon again.
And you know, even if the ‘only’ outcomes of being a Dragon or Warrior are the memories made, that’s ok. Some people have no significant positive memories and having a hand in changing that is enough.
So, going back to the question of what SFW does? Hopefully we provide opportunities to get involved in things that people wouldn’t otherwise be doing. And from there? Well, maybe we will be a part of some people’s journey to recovery from mental illness or addiction. Maybe accessing an advice surgery from one of the visiting organisations will be the start of a positive change. Maybe the peer support from other participants will have an impact…?
SFW is one potential stop on some people’s journey through life. We have a map that we can look at together, but ultimately, we all follow our own path – and as long as you know that our ‘stop’ will always be there, that you can stay as long as you like and you can always pop back, it’s job done.