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Khalsa Football Story

In this blog, Anna Denham talks about Khalsa Football academy, which has served the local community since 1988 and supports local children and adults with additional needs.

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In August, Anna Denham visited the Khalsa Football Academy (KFA) in Letchworth Garden City.

She has written this piece about the Academy, which has been serving the local community since 1988. It was established when lead volunteer Bal Singh set the group up to support local children and adults with additional needs, using football and other sporting activities as the main draw.

Faith, Hope and Football

The first thing that struck me when I arrived at the sports centre, where the academy is based on Saturdays, was the peace and tranquillity of the venue. Set back from the main road and surrounded by countryside, there was a real sense of peace and calm.

I was greeted by a group of young men playing basketball in the main hall with volunteer Kevin. Bal soon appeared and introduced me to everyone – participants and volunteers alike. In addition to the lively game of basketball, a volunteer and participant were practising some boxing techniques at the far end of the hall.

We went through to the smaller hall next door, where just outside, a young boy was participating in some one-to-one games with another volunteer. The smaller hall and the lawn area outside were set up for a range of activities involving cones, bean bags and other games-type equipment.

The volunteers also showed me the tennis courts and the athletics track that the academy can benefit from when the weather is good.

Not a numbers game

Bal informed me that there were usually more children present on a Saturday afternoon, but it was an unusually quiet day, and they’d, unfortunately, had some cancellations.

However, the numbers are not important to Bal and the other volunteers. What’s important is that they are there every Saturday, come rain or shine, for whoever needs their support and wants to have fun with friends.

I chatted to Gavin, another volunteer, who showed me the video and photography equipment he had set up in one corner of the small hall. Every week he films some of the games and encourages and supports the participants to get involved in editing the videos. They have produced some great “Match of the Day” videos of their football and futsal games, which they upload to their YouTube channel for everyone to enjoy.

Speaking of futsal, I had heard of it but didn’t know how it differed from football. Bal explained that because the ball is smaller and heavier than a regular football, it can be used for more specific exercises, allowing people to mobilise their feet and ankles more efficiently whilst manipulating the ball.

Bal, Gavin and all the volunteers give up so much of their time – not just at the sessions, but for all the planning and film editing afterwards – to support the children and young adults to get involved in whatever way they want. They told me they never use the word “can’t” at KFA, and if someone wants to do something, they will support them to make it happen.

A hub of community

Over the years, the team has seen the physical, mental, social, and developmental benefits of bringing people together over sport and exercise.

Bal also told me his ideas for expanding the sessions to include a more formal “drop-in” offer for parents and carers whilst their child or loved one enjoys the games and activities. Many parents of Disabled children often find out about support, or entitlement to benefits, just by word of mouth. Bal shares what knowledge and information he can but would love to do more. He knows many parents feel cut off from communication or miss out on vital support.

Providing a hub where parents and carers can meet over a cup of tea, ask the volunteers for guidance, and just swap information can make all the difference.

We know that people do not fit into “boxes”, and often a Disabled person and their family will experience other barriers associated with language, finances, or social isolation. A “drop-in” or hub could be a real benefit to so many families.

I left Letchworth on Saturday with a real sense of hope and faith. Hope for humanity, and confidence in the power of one person, or a small group, to do good things and to make a difference. Every community needs someone like Bal and his Khalsa Football Academy.

Next Steps

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