MORE THAN FOOTBALL AWARD 2023 LONGLIST: The St Johnstone Community Trust – Saints Academy INclusion Through Sport (SAINTS)
The European Football for Development Network (EFDN) is proud to present The St Johnstone Community Trust – Saints Academy INclusion Through Sport (SAINTS) project, that has been selected for the longlist of the More than Football Award 2023.
SAINTS (Saints Academy INclusion Through Sport), originally part of St Johnstone’s community department, and now an integral part of the Community Trust, Mental Health & Wellbeing Football is a project which has grown over a 13-year period, kicking off in 2010. The project has developed to include support for adults with learning disabilities, students with additional support needs, children & young people with Autism, and children & young people with ADHD. Sport is for everyone. Described as “trailblazers” by the Scottish FA’s Disability Manager, the programme has gone from strength to strength, engaging with numerous adults and children, ranging from the ages of 5 to 64 years old across the different groups.
SAINTS is aimed at breaking down barriers to participation for children, young people, and adults who either live with ADHD, Autism, learning disabilities, or those living with mental health struggles, including alcohol or substance misuse. The Trust offer a variety of sporting activities and work with a range of local organisations to create a pathway to participation for the target groups. Each target group takes part in a variety of weekly activities designed for their needs and supported by trained professional coaches in recognising, understanding and meeting the needs of the people affected. Sessions are complimented by additional wellbeing support services including free haircuts, free meals, and free hygiene products.
MAIN PROJECT OBJECTIVES
- Raise awareness of mental health, disabilities, and neurodiversity
- Promote inclusion in sport
- Increase participation by providing a welcoming environment which reflects player needs
- Reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness in players and their families
- Provide early intervention and prevention opportunities to support health services
An example of one of their trainings is the ADHD+Sport programme that provides an occupational therapist alongside the activity sessions. This helps to de-brief any issues and adapt an activity in response to behaviours. Participants are also given responsibility of a ‘Player Passport’ to record their personal achievements and communicate their ‘what helps me’ and ‘Do’s & Don’ts’. Additionally, local ADHD Group provides support to the families throughout the project by providing help with organisation, prompts to remember the sessions, support to take their child out in the community and transport. The ADHD+Sport programme is complimented by regular Awareness Training for local coaches
and leaders to support other mainstream sporting activities being inclusive, with the aim for participants to move into these activities once they have graduated from the programme.
“He has made some friends which is lovely, and it is great that the people who take themParent, ADHD+Sport Group
actually understand them, and they have all been amazing with the kids. It is a really important group for our kids to meet and join in with activities that they would struggle with if they didn’t have the support the group gives to them.”
The sportsmanship and team spirit organically developed has rewarded them with credit for their programmes’ success and in 2021, the SAINTS project won the Best Para-Football Project (Scottish FA East Region) Award.
“People will never understand how much this means to my boy. He loves football so much and IParent, Autism FC Group
will be forever grateful that my boy gets to be just like every other kid that loves the game”
Mental Health & Wellbeing Football
“I was lost in my own wee world. I was military so I didn’t trust anybody. I drank, I had a noose in my loft, I cut myself – all the rest of it. I thought there was nothing for me. I had a lot of issues with surgery. I felt useless to the world after I was fit all my life. Then I heard Saints in the Community had a football team […] I came up, joined the team, met a good bunch of lads […] So when I came here, my life changed totally. I met a great bunch of guys with total commitment between each other. I felt part of a family that I never had beforehand. So that’s what the SAINTS Mental Wellbeing Football team have done for me. Basically, it has changed my life. […] I have something to live for.”Mental Health & Wellbeing Football player