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New Buzzwords. New partnerships. A new Normal.

Dougie Samuel, CEO of The Spartans Community Football Academy reflects on recent weeks at The Academy.

This past month has been like no other. A new virus is re-writing the rule book and changing the world as we know it.

Buzzwords and new technology have become our ‘new normal’ in no time at all. Days are filled with ‘Zoom’ calls (is it only me singing Fat Larry’s Band, a hit back in 1982?) – and a chance to reconnect with others online. Words and acronyms I’ve never used before, such as ‘pivot’, ‘furlough’ and ‘PPE’ are all now part and parcel of my daily conversations.

As I cherish a moment of calm today and reflect back on the past month, I wanted to share some thoughts with you and to briefly update you on The Academy’s Corona journey so far.  As you would expect, as outbreak advice and guidelines have changed, we have continually re-directed and re-focused our efforts, both internally and also in working with our local community partners.

It’s been great to be able to play our part in a wider community effort to help and support local families. The Academy has become a hub for the collection and redistribution of daily lunches and weekly food parcels for members of our community. In a true ‘bottom-up approach’ numerous community partners have come together to provide a co-ordinated support over these past few weeks. I’m super proud of the way in which numerous organisations, many of whom who did not have close day-to-day relationships previously, are pulling together as one.

Is it perfect yet? No. Has it been an easy process? No. Is everyone well intentioned and committed to helping those in need? Absolutely. Many leaders can have a touch of the ‘control freak’ in them, meaning that at times we can find it hard to let go of the wheel - and I am no different. We are an authentic and caring pool of local leaders who are deep rooted in our community and together we are learning to work together to combine our local knowledge, relationships and networks to do the very best for our community that we can. 

At the heart of every decision we make is one question - ‘how do we build capacity and upscale together whilst ensuring that everything we do puts everyone’s safety first?' .This requires an ability to step back and ask ourselves each day ‘what is it we are trying to achieve?’. Not losing sight of this key question is vital and sometimes we need to slow down, or we run the risk of becoming motivated idiots.

I can’t lie, it’s not been easy at times. It can be a real challenge to get everyone working from the same map of the world. When people read, see and feel the words ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ each day it’s only natural that survival instincts can set in and that people can and will become insular at times. 

An observation and a current challenge for us is how can each group maintain its own sense of purpose and personality, whilst contributing to a much a bigger cause and delivery model. Local people’s affinity and connection with local organisations is so important. It can help to bring a degree of comfort and a sense of genuine attachment in these times of isolation.  

What we have learnt and what we know is that the delivery of a food item or parcel is not a process. It is not a transaction. Instead it’s an opportunity to maintain or create relationships with people and it can help us to be and feel connected to others. The importance of the Academy and our local partners’ emotional connections with people living in our community cannot be underestimated.

As a learning experience, this has been and remains the biggest test of our Academy guiding principles and values-based approach we are ever likely to face. Identifying 3-4 things where we can be most useful and can add the most value, and then doing them to the very best of our ability has shaped our approach and actions. As ever, we have tried to deliver help and support in a dignified way, one which respects everyone who currently finds themselves in difficulty - it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of playing ‘poverty top trumps’.

Time will tell if the world will become a better place on the back of these hugely difficult and unprecedented times. My biggest hope is that we can and will take this opportunity to reflect and to challenge and ask ourselves how we can ensure we become a more caring, kind, considerate and compassionate society. 

Can we take this opportunity to improve civic society? Can a pointing finger be replaced with a with a helping hand? Can pre-conceptions be replaced with a non-judgemental starting point? Can a closed ear be replaced with a popped ear which has a new and heightened ability to truly listen to understand? I hope so. 

Please do stay safe and healthy and look after each other, always. Ds x