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When Emily Met Allan. Surrounded by Heroes.

In this second blog, Dougie Samuel, CEO of The Spartans Community Football Academy reflects on finding meaning and drive during these challenging times, celebrating people and organisations that are coming together to support each other in North Edinburgh and shines a light on how we are trying to shape our current operations at The Academy.

Just now, I’m often left wondering am I the only one who finds themselves more tearful and emotional, but also utterly inspired by others on a daily basis? 

This week delivered a new national hero - step forward BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, who articulated our current reality so well, who shone a light on the true and actual landscape where this ‘blind battle’ is being fought each day.

Sometimes, another day full of pandemic related communications can leave me feeling a bit drowned and saturated…marinated in the latest guidelines, facts and figures. However, I’ve come to realise keeping things simple has really helped me to stay focused, lead our efforts and get through this past month.

In amongst the daily saturation of COVID-19 communications and long days filled with one decision after another, keeping a handful of simple questions at the forefront of my mind has helped (and enabled) me to fight off another potential invisible enemy, namely a mental state of “feeling truly overwhelmed”. Questions such as:

  • How can we be most useful and relevant in terms of our help and support for others?;
  • How can we maintain relationships with people who participate on our programmes?; 
  • How can we create moments and opportunities for ‘human connection’ throughout our day?;
  • How can we reduce the levels of anxiety for our staff, volunteers and participants on our various programmes?;
  • And lastly, can I stop and be curious, see and find the diamonds amongst the dark clouds and the rough?

Can I/we use the above questions to help steer how we make a meaningful contribution “in our own wee patch of the world”  has been my/our starting point.  It remains my guiding light. 

These hugely challenging times are bringing home to me more than ever how important a clarity of thought and real sense of purpose are.  Also, how important it is to pause and ask myself – what’s my/our intention? behind the actions we are taking.

As daft as it may sound, my gut feeling is the past 12 years has prepared us for this moment.  Being authentic on our journey throughout stands us in good stead.  At a time when people are craving for some kind of normality and stability…something which feels familiar, a “comfort blanket”,  it’s important we stay strong and are consistent in our efforts.      

Numerous people are coming forward to help others (strangers they have never met) in a variety of different ways.  From funders getting in touch to ask how can they help (also to provide some much needed reassurance and support), people making donations, new partners and organisations who we are now working much closer with….and of course, people coming forward to volunteer from within all the many different parts of ‘The Spartans Family’. I’ve been blown away by acts of kindness, people reaching out to get in touch and to offer help. It’s a ‘daily oxygen’ to keep us all going and keep pushing on. On a more personal level, it’s a nudge to encourage me to continue to ‘show up’ every day, to embrace those feelings of vulnerability when they show up but go for it anyway!

This collective and combined support has helped to shape our current operation and activities, which includes:

  • The Academy has become a food distribution hub for the local community for one of the key food-based work packages, namely – provision of packed lunches;
  • With the help and support of Social Bite and Chand & Co. Group we are co-ordinating the distribution of more than 2,000 packed lunches each week. 
  • Next week with the help of Porto & Fi our capacity will increase to 2750 packed lunches a week; 
  • Distribution of c.40 food parcels to local families we know each week (a huge thank you to Mathieson’s the Butcher for your donations);
  • Distribution of 200 ready meals (prepared by Chand & Co. Group) each week to local families;
  • Maintaining relationships with and supporting students (in various ways) who attend our Alternative School;
  • Maintaining contact with and supporting children and young people we work with as part of our Youth Worker in Primary School programme;
  • Maintaining contact and links with some of the children and young people who attend our youth work clubs. e.g. on Friday past Kenny and Lewis hosted our inaugural ‘Friday Zoom-Tea’ get together on-line;  
  • Maintaining contact with participants on our Connections para-football programme;
  • An on-line presence – our Football Coaching Department are staying connected with our participants and setting regular Skills Challenges. 

Quiet simply the food distribution hub would not be in place without the support of the above-named partners and any many others.  However, some Local Heroes have also played a huge part.  There are so many people I could and want to name – e.g. Tom at Granton Community Gardeners, John at Scran Academy.

One of my favourite phrases I love to share with people is a Steve Jobs line – namely, “we can only join the dots looking back”.  At the very start of my Academy journey, before the facility opened, I met with Allan Hosey a local CLD worker. When I look back and join the dots, arguably it’s one of the most important meetings I ever had.  It was the start of professional relationship which has seen us work together on various initiatives, the latest being our ‘packed lunches’ food distribution hub.  If I need inspiration from watching a Local Hero at work, I need look no further than in the direction of Allan – a truly selfless, humble, educated professional with a ‘heart of corn’. 

Lots of people have worked selflessly and tirelessly with us over the past few weeks to create an operation which has become vital for lots of local families in no time at all.  To everyone who has helped - thank you from the bottom of my heart.  This past month has revealed to me a ‘silent, inner resilience’ in our community, in local people (and beyond) which I didn’t know was there. 

Our own Academy Team and Spartans Family have pulled together, looked out for each other and responded to a situation which no training course could prepare any of us for.  There is no playbook for this one.  I’m really proud of how our ‘blue coats’ have risen to the challenge (and I’m hugely grateful).

For years I’ve ended my ‘Gaffer’ piece in match day programmes with the same quote – “we are together, that’s all that matters”.   It’s a phrase which sits above the exit to the Home Dressing Room, leading out to the player’s tunnel.  Right now, the Spartans Family is together as one in our combined efforts to do all we can to help local families living in our community.     

Perhaps my biggest learn in all of this so far is something I suspect my sub-conscious brain knew all along. Namely, that there is real power to be found in love, kindness and compassion and in human connection. Real joy to be found when we slow down, are present with each other and cherish the small moments together each day. 

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