Street Soccer Summer camps in Kent and Medway to provide activities and meals for children
The country's hopes are riding on England's footballers this Sunday - but for families around Kent and Medway the beautiful game will be providing a very real lifeline this summer.
Kent based charity, the Street Soccer Foundation, has announced it is to host free summer camps offering football and food to more than 1,000 disadvantaged children, starting at the end of this month and continuing throughout August.
Keith Mabbutt from the Street Soccer Foundation
Although the charity usually helps young adults affected by homelessness around the country, founder and CEO Keith Mabbutt said the economic impact of the pandemic on communities had inspired him and his colleagues to reach out to help the most affected families.
Through providing the new Street Soccer Summer camps, the charity will become the lead-partner in Kent as the government rolls out its Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme across the country, providing healthy food and enriching activities to disadvantaged children.
Speaking just days away from what will arguably be England's the biggest football match since 1966 - Keith explained how his charity was also hoping to take a step further to help Kent families.
"It was a little bit outside of our remit," he said.
"We normally work with young adults that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and we have provision for that that's national now, but in Kent our home county we really wanted to do what we could do and we made it very clear we want to do as much as we can for these children that are suffering and the families that are really trying to make ends meet."
He said charity members had spoke to families, conducted doorstop visits and attended lots of schools across the county, talking to children and parents about what was needed.
Keith added: "The general consensus was that people have found things very tough and challenging - to put food on the table, with work and employment, people losing their jobs and being put on furlough, it's been tough, so with that kind of advice and education we took it internally to say 'look we're going to give this every chance to do something for our county, which we love'."
"I'm pleased to say Kent County Council and Medway Council in particular have given us the opportunity to do this programme which will start at the end of July throughout the whole of August, Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm each day. We're expecting 300 plus children every day to attend what we've got planned."
The scheme, which will predominantly be focussed on Medway, will aim to serve more than 8,000 lunches to feed more than 1,000 disadvantaged children across the county.
Children aged five to 15 can take part, playing football and other activities every day, as well as being offered lunch everyday and a minimum of one hot meal per week.
The Street Soccer Summer Camps will take place in various locations across Kent and Medway from Monday, July 26 and run through to Friday, August 27.
With children off school for the holidays, the summer is traditionally a time struggling families come under more pressure and Keith said this summer would be particularly hard, with the affects of the pandemic continuing to be felt.
And he said many families were living in fear of losing jobs and not being able to pay mortgages or rent.
"These are really hard working people," he added. "They're such lovely people and they really want to make ends meet an do the best by their family, but just genuinely really struggling.
"It's incredible in 2021 but it is happening and it does happen, and it's because of that the pandemic has really hit people a lot.
"We've got a real sense of unity in community, that's our statement of intent, we want to talk to people and involve people as much as we can."
And with the theme of unity in mind, he said it was the same sense of togetherness that could just help England triumph in the European Championship final in Sunday night.
"We've got every chance," said Keith. "It's the best chance we've had.
"I firmly believe we can do it. On our day we can beat anyone at the moment.
"I must say Gareth Southgate, the way he's brought this team of individuals together - for me they really look like a family. "They're all playing for each other as a team and a squad.
"They're all hugging each other, helping each other and smiling, being there for each other and playing for each other. I think if we can take that into Sunday's final we have got every chance.
"I firmly believe we can do it. On our day we can beat anyone at the moment..."
"Hopefully, fingers crossed - I'm not going to be saying it's coming home, I want it to of course I do, but everything's crossed."
The free summer camps announcement also coincides with news the charity is to launch a series of new ‘Street Soccer Leagues’ across England in partnership with Leisure Leagues, the largest supplier of small-sided leagues in the world.
The new league's will be the UK’s first adult 5-a-side Football Leagues established specifically to sponsor and support vulnerable and homeless young people nationwide.
To register your interest in joining a team or forming your own team to take part, please contact Martin Johnson, Head of Operations, on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To book places on the Street Soccer Summer Camps, please email: email@example.com or to volunteer to help with the camps contact Kay Skelton, Head of Community on firstname.lastname@example.org.