Thriving community: Taking inspiration from local youth football

A thriving community is one in which everyone has a chance to bring their gifts and strengths to the table.

Through Livability’s disability services or link church provision, we want to see the people we support enjoy a thriving community.

This week, we take inspiration from the community-forming possibilities of a local football club. We talked to club leader Mike Langworth about the joys and rewards of inspiring a community to come together.

How did this club get started?

I started the club with another parent from my church. We were keen to offer a Saturday football club for young people who were either in the congregation or connected to it. We started off experimentally but the formula seemed to work and resonate with the young people. We began to invest in equipment so that we could move the project out into the community and this continued for around 15 years

What impact has this club had on local people?

The impact has been really positive, as many of the young people who joined as children still play together as adults for fun. Enjoying doing something together on a voluntary basis has led to many lasting friendships. The competitions and events held by the club are remembered with great fondness by my own children and others who played.

How has the club helped the participants become more involved in their community?

Following on from the success of the weekly club, we began an annual five-a-side competition with several other churches, held on a public open space in a neighbouring urban village under the final approach to Heathrow airport. Both church and non-church teams of young people participated. This event really seemed to resonate with the local community. For our first year, the local curry house brought out two huge vats of biryani and served everyone for free.

[x_blockquote cite=”Mike Langworth” type=”left”]”Another year, when the grass was too long to play on, everybody turned up with lawnmowers, sickles and scythes. From the air, it must have looked bizarre, to see people apparently harvesting grass on a Saturday afternoon, with every possible implement!”[/x_blockquote]

How did you create unity within the team?

We set out the rules of play from the beginning. Our first and most important rule was that everybody had to enjoy themselves. We tried to emphasise that fair play and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive – one cannot exist without the other and being purely competitive would ruin what was otherwise a beautiful game. We also made it clear that fair play did not mean ridiculing others for their lack of ability but rather recognising that everybody had a contribution to make.
There was no magic formula to making it work, but as team leaders we tried to demonstrate that we valued everybody equally. We would always award prizes based on contribution and attitude, rather than ability.

You started every session with a moment of prayer and thanks. What impact did this have?

We would find an appropriate verse from the Bible and relate it to the game. We insisted that everyone was quiet while we prayed. Of course, not everybody listened but some did. The key aim was to demonstrate that God was real and interested in every aspect of life and people’s lives. He wasn’t just a religious concept that we talked about inside a church building.

From your experience, what unites people within a community?

My own church is extremely diverse, with half from Asian backgrounds and a good portion African. No matter what our background, we are all one as we gather, illustrating that we are one body. Issues of race and origin become irrelevant when we come together in fellowship in the Gospel. There are always challenges, but putting Christian values into practice mean that the joys outweigh the irritations and idiosyncrasies.

For any organisation or community to excel, there must be a unifying force, strong motivation or common goal to which everybody can aspire and work towards, one which overrides smaller ambitions. Being the best we can be and working together is the key to success in any group.

Mike Langworth is Company Secretary for Livability – and an avid football enthusiast. Earlier this year, Mike was one of six winners of a Princess Royal Livability Award for 25 years of service to Livability.