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VIDEO: “We’re changing lives in Doncaster” - a special report on Doncaster Rovers Foundation

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  • by Paul Goodwin
 

Treated to a whistle-stop tour of the Keepmoat Stadium classrooms, it was hard not to feel inspired.

There was a palatable buzz about the place. That’s the power of sport.

And according to Liam Scully, chief executive of Doncaster Rovers Community Sports and Education Foundation, that power is changing lives in Doncaster.

Scully now practices what was preached to him a decade ago, when he initially joined Rovers as a community coach.

Now the 29-year-old, who replaced Eric Randerson at the Foundation’s helm in 2012, is tasked with laying the foundation blocks of Rovers’ future, to build the club’s fan base and use that power of sport to change people’s lives in the borough.

It’s no mean feat. But Scully and his team are getting results.

“The last 12 months have been very challenging,” he said.

“We’ve been faced with a new government and a change in local policy so we had to make sure we were a current provider in changing times.

“But for us the last year has not just been about evolving, we’ve managed to headline a number of projects that have gone on in Doncaster.

“We’re starting to see the impact of our work so it’s been a massively pleasing time for us.

“Our success is built on our community ethos. It’s a huge team effort here.”

The aforementioned classroom is now home to roughly 120 students, each enrolled on a variety of courses but with one thing in common - a pride in the Doncaster Rovers badge.

“Football is changing lives in Doncaster,” said Scully.

“Okay I’m biased. But the results we’ve had, from a statistical point of view, have been excellent. We’ve been labelled as an ‘outstanding achiever’ by education specialists.

“But what we’re ultimately trying to do is use the power of sport and the hook of a football club to engage with students.

“It’s unfair to say the students that come through our doors wouldn’t thrive in mainstream education.

“Looking back at my own education, mainstream would’ve done me well.

“But I think we’re able to extract that extra two or three per cent, which can make a big difference to someone’s future, because of the resources we have available here.

“The Keepmoat Stadium is an inspirational place to come and learn. We also believe we have the best teachers in Doncaster.

“And when players like Rob Jones drop by, we have living role models who are willing to engage with our students.

“Our creative curriculum works well too. There’s a mix of theory and practical.

“Our students get to play in the Donny Rovers branding and representing Doncaster Rovers gives these kids a real sense of pride.

“From our point of view, that’s great to see and a sign we’re making good progress.”

Good results have not been limited to exams either.

Scully says the work of the Foundation - whose much-lauded school visits reached out to almost 50,000 pupils during the 2012/13 academic year - are starting to increase Rovers’ fan-base.

“We’re starting to see the impact of our work,” he said.

“Prior to 2006 we were unable to measure what we do, but since then we’re starting to see reliable patterns.

“Last season we averaged about two player visits per working day.

“And we’ve found that spending quality time with groups of pupils, rather than a school en masse, and talking to them about their curriculum and what’s going on in their lives, is the method that’s working best.

“We believe it’s starting to work. We’re selling more replica shirts than ever before and judging by the amount of Rovers shirts you see out and about now, we know we’re on the right track.

“When we launched the Education Centre four years ago there was a bit of a stereotype that Rovers were a lot of the kids’ second team.

“But the students that are coming through now are genuine Rovers fans. A lot of them follow the team home and away.

“In terms of creating a fan base, we’re in charge of getting results today, tomorrow and next season. But we also have a duty to the club in the long term.

“There’s quick wins to be had but what we are doing is trying to build a sustainable club for the future.

“We’re starting to look at more creative ways of increasing the fan base, and in the long run that will hopefully have an impact on the manager’s playing budget.

“You could argue our work has very little to do with the elite development side.

“But the commitment that’s been shown by Paul [Dickov] and the owners towards the Foundation only encourages us to do what we can to help them.”

Scully’s first full year in charge has seen the bar set high, but he’s confident his close-knit team - which now includes ex-Rovers players Jan Budtz and Tim Ryan - will sustain their success.

“We’ve put ourselves up on a pedestal nationally for the work that we do,” said Scully.

“Now we need to continue that and make sure that’s driven forward.

“A one-year successful programme is good but the real challenge is sustaining those programmes and taking them on to new levels.

“Some of last year’s results, from a statistical point of view, will be difficult to repeat, especially those in education.

“But there’s a steely determination to maintain those sort of results across all themes of the Foundation.

“Steering us into this new era has been my first challenge,” he added.

“We all know and appreciate the legacy that Eric Randerson left here. He built something from absolutely nothing. My challenge is to take it to the next level and become a ‘Super Foundation’.

“There’s some great models out there. Other clubs are doing things that far exceed what we’re doing at the moment - our aim is to get into that bracket with things like youth work and social engagement. We want to extend our footprint across Doncaster.

“At the moment we engage with 20,000 people a year. Let’s make that 40,000 and then 60,000.

“If we can extend our reach and contribute to making Doncaster a better place, then we’ll all be very happy.”

For more information about the Foundation visit www.drfc-community.co.uk.

 

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