As part of Volunteers Week we take a look at Mel and Grace, two inspirational young volunteers whose work has made football accessible for women of all ages in Bristol.
The voluntary work completed by the inspirational duo has left a lasting positive impact on their local community and has created opportunities for the two youngsters.
Mel and Grace began their journey with Bristol City Robins Foundation seven years ago when, having become too old to attend the Foundation’s holiday camps, they offered to volunteer and help run the camps. The commitment and desire to help their local community was quickly noted by staff at the Robins Foundation and the pair were invited to become members of the newly formed Youth Council – a body of young people who help shape the Foundation’s delivery.
Frustrated by lack of opportunities available for women and girls to get involved in football, something both Mel and Grace had first-hand experience of, the duo, along with their fellow youth councillors, embarked on a mission to address the issue head on.
This mission led to council helping the Robins Foundation to setup the innovative F3 (Free Female Fitness) programme, which provides women and girls of all ages the chance to have fun and engage in football and fitness free of charge.
The innovative project has three level catering for the varying need of women and girls aged 6-100. F3 Mini Girls Hub is for girls ages 6-11 and looks to get girls into football by having a positive social environment for them to learn and develop. F3 PL Girls Hub is for ages 11-16 helps young girls transition into grassroots or representative football and F3 female fitness is for anyone aged 16-100 and provides a safe, fun environment where participants can get fit.
The project continues to run digitally on a bi-weekly basis during this period of lockdown.
The work of Grace, Mel and the rest of the Youth Council in setting up this project was recognised on a national level with the programme winning the FA’s national participation award in 2017/18. The project has gone from strength to strength since its conception with over 80 women and girls regularly taking part in these sessions.
The way the project has brought people from different generations together is embodied by Ruby, Alena, Mandy, and Diane – four generations of women from one family who all participate in the F3 sessions.
Ruby, aged 14, was already attending the Girls Hub and her mum Alena, would be there to drop her off so having a session that she can join in with during this time has been ideal. However, not wanting to go alone she brought her mum Mandy, Ruby’s Nan. Not wanting to be left out Great Nan Diane, who hadn’t played football in around fifty years, joined in too, she said: “It’s really nice to be getting active and playing sports again. I haven't played for many years!” Alena, who had never played football at all before, has lost over 2 stone since taking part in the sessions.
Robins Foundation Projects and Partnerships Manager, James Edwards commented: “Mel, Grace and all of the Youth Council are an absolute credit to the Foundation.“They have all worked tirelessly to help improve their community for everyone.”
Their voluntary work has led to opportunities for both of the youngsters; with Grace gaining full-time employment as an Apprentice Coach with the Robins Foundation and Mel further developing her coaching skills on one of Bristol City Robins Foundation’s higher education programmes (Foundation Degree in Community Coaching).