2021 has been a big year so far for Street Soccer Scotland. With a new community space in Edinburgh, and plans for their first street soccer centre in Dundee, you might think that CEO, David Duke, was busy enough as it is. However he found the time to chat with us about the amazing work that Street Soccer Scotland does and the exciting launch of their very own tartan!
How Street Soccer Scotland came to be
My name is David Duke, I currently live in Leith, Edinburgh but I am originally from Govan in Glasgow (I always get that part in). I am the founder of Street Soccer Scotland and I am passionate about making sure no one is left behind. Street Soccer Scotland is a social enterprise and charity which was set up in 2009 to use football as a tool to provide new connections, opportunity, support and purpose for people who may be experiencing a range of challenges in life. Often, people who are experiencing homelessness, addiction or mental health set-backs can become very isolated and we wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space for unity, access to the beautiful game and hopefully provide a wee bit of hope and support for people when they need it most.
In 2009, we started off by delivering some free drop in sessions in Edinburgh and Glasgow but over the last 12 years our range of programmes and our reach has grown.
Today we deliver a variety of projects including Adult and Youth Football Drop in sessions, Women’s Football/Fitness Sessions and a Prison Programme delivering education and football which allows us to build relationships and engage with players on release to reduce re-offending. We have an employability partnership for players, education modules, volunteer programmes, programmes in schools for young people who may be at risk of exclusion and also programmes in residential facilities for young people. In addition to that, we also represent Team Scotland at the Homeless World Cup, an annual global football tournament.
Football is by far the most popular sport in the world. Billions of people watch it, play it and live by it every day. Football can stop violence and promote peace, it can deliver education, it can provide health and hope and it can bring people and communities together in a way like no other. I suppose that’s the first reason for Street Soccer, how can we use it to unite people, create new friendships, provide somewhere to go and something to be part of. Because we all need to be part of something right? And I know that, because I’ve lived it.
Back in 2001, I became homeless following a range of circumstances, including the passing of my father. I had a fairly difficult time as kid, dropped out of school around 13/14 and most of my time was trying to navigate childhood and survive whilst having one eye on my father, who had alcohol dependency. It was tough. Then as a young adult I found myself with no home, no place of safety and security and I was cut off from friendships and relationships. For around 3 years, I existed within a tough place with nothing to look forward to, except resting my head at night, hoping that when I woke up, things would be better.
I had played football regularly as a kid, but left it behind in early adulthood. Thankfully I found it again.
There was a football tournament in Glasgow involving hostels and other homelessness services which was trying to find a team to represent Scotland at the Homeless World Cup. It proved to be a turning point. I suddenly found myself with some purpose and some hope. Twice a week, I would turn up at the football sessions, trying my best. I also started to manage my life better off the pitch, avoiding negative behaviours and eating better.
Through opportunity, finding some purpose, meeting the right people, and with some hard work, I left homelessness behind for good.
I went back to college, became a youth worker by night, football coach at weekends and supported people experiencing homelessness and with the work experience as well as my lived experience… Street Soccer Scotland was born.
In 2010, we were very grateful to have Sir Alex Ferguson join us as our Official Ambassador. His support, time and voice allowed us to not only amplify our message and support, but it also created a role model of the greatest scale for our players, many of whom have met him.
Over the years we have also had a range of footballers and managers attend sessions and deliver coaching, Former Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers for example invited players up to the Celtic FC training ground for a coaching session and Q&A, whilst Rangers FC Manager, Steven Gerrard invited players to watch a first team training session.
We are also delighted that Andy Robertson, Scotland Captain, fresh from winning a European Cup and Premier League with Liverpool FC, has joined us as our latest ambassador. He is a great guy who has his own charity as well and he is very passionate about making a difference. I think we have all been looking forward to seeing him captain Scotland at this year’s UEFA European Championship.
Scotland is leading the way for social enterprises
I think Scotland has long been known for our compassion and care, we are a very caring country with a rich history of innovation, so it would seem natural for us to lead the way in social enterprise. Some of the best ones, you won’t have heard of, operating very much under the radar in communities across Scotland delivering real change to the communities they serve. They are the lifeblood of many communities and continue to create new ways of helping, even during the most difficult of situations.
My experience of setting up a social enterprise is very positive, and the reason for that is that, people get it and people support it. Large Companies such as PwC and Barclays have been mentorship and support for Social Enterprise of all sizes for a number of years now, the Scottish Government fund a number of Social Enterprise start up and scale up agencies, while as a community we are also sharing best (and worst) practice with each other to ensure everyone wins.
We are a passionate bunch. From football to rugby we follow our teams everywhere (even when we often lose!) We are passionate about our history, our greatest sons and daughters, our heritage, having the best ever James Bond.
You just have to look at some of our events to see that us Scots like to welcome everyone. From The Fringe and Edinburgh Hogmanay to the greatest ever Commonwealth games: Glasgow 2014. And we want everyone to know, whether you come to Scotland for a holiday or to live as ‘New Scots’, aye you're always welcome.
Coping during COVID-19
The impact of COVID-19 on everyone has been unprecedented and the world has been evolving on a daily basis, changing how we live, how we work and how we view what is important.
In these difficult times, and being ever the optimist, I believe that good will come from the pain we are all feeling right now. During any crisis, we develop new skills, new ways of looking at the world we live in and appreciate the things in life we maybe took for granted. The light is brighter after darkness and I hope everyone can continue to keep safe and hopeful for life after coronavirus.
From the day our regular street soccer programmes had to stop, we have ensured that our key focus across our work for this period and the weeks that lie ahead is well-being. Not just for players but also our staff, especially front-line staff.
As a Sport for change organisation, all of our actions and interventions to date and in the future focus on 4 critical areas for players, safety, security, connected and health.
In the past year and a half, our staff have reacted almost daily to the COVID-19 guidelines and worked around this to ensure we are still here to serve our players. Our response and support has been wide and varied so far, including: Delivering Food and Supplies, providing smart phones and data to help keep connected to players. Providing support with emergency transport, regular online sessions and group chats, one to one chats and establishing a free phone helpline. We also created a Hardship Funds for player to access in crisis.
As a team, we will continue to develop our offer of support to players, as we look for innovation across what we do to ensure our players are safe, healthy, connected and secure. We could never have predicted how much our lives were going to change when we first went into lockdown in early 2020, so we are putting a real focus on how we can be creative with our transitions back to normality to make sure that we are able to continue supporting people within our community no matter what we might face next.
Changing with the times.
After over 10 years in Scotland, we now have a London project, aimed at creating positive change through football and we are looking forward to watching it develop. Over the years we have supported a number of organisations internationally to help them develop similar models to us and create sustainability plans. We also provide support for coaches/player development with Andy, our Head of Programmes visiting India on a regular basis to support a fantastic NGO called Slum Soccer.
This year we are really excited to be opening our first ever Change Centre, which should be open to the public at the end of this summer. We adopted a sports centre in Dundee that was due for closure, and are turning it into a new community hub. While sports will definitely be at its core, a number of services will be available for the local community, such as a learning centre and community garden area. We hope that as things begin to reopen we can welcome back the visitors from around the world who come to see what Street Soccer is all about to take back to their own communities.
Creating a tartan for all
We have been thinking about create an official Street Soccer tartan for a while now. Each year, our supporters and team, take part in the Kiltwalk, Scotland’s largest charity fundraiser. We also represent Scotland globally at the Homeless World Cup, so nothing defines Scottish more than a tartan. While working on the design, we felt that tartan should represent our values and our journey. The blue and coral represent our brand colours for Street Soccer in Scotland and London, but the main feature is the Equality rainbow.
This was particularly important to us because Street Soccer has always been open to everyone. Our tartan is one of the first registered tartans in the world to include the equality rainbow, a fact that we are very proud of. We know how important it is to be a voice for people and an ally for change.
Some sports have reputations of hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community, which can make them feel hesitant to reach out, so we want to be clear that Street Soccer welcomes all players and supporters, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.