Reds in the Community Chief Executive, Paul France, wrote in Saturday's edition of Grove Street.
Get to know Reds in the Community's new CEO, Paul France:
I was born and grew up in Huddersfield and like many young boys I wanted to become a professional footballer. I was fortunate enough to do that, doing two years as an apprentice and then two years as a professional with Huddersfield Town. I then had a year at Bristol City, two seasons with Burnley but by the age of 23 I had realised I wasn’t good enough really, not to play at that kind of level, and so I dropped into non-league football.
But football was my passion and I didn’t want to leave it, so I took my coaching badges and also went to University and whilst playing in non-league I went to work at Leeds United in their football in the community programme. And within a couple of years, Huddersfield approached me and asked if I’d go back there and head up their community programme. I did that for 19 years.
I went back to Burnley and spent five years as deputy chief executive of Burnley FC in the community. I think that was the best example I can think of how football in the community can work closely together with the club to help, improve and change people’s lives. It’s about working together, collaborating with local authorities and really engaging with the local community.
That’s the experience that I’m bringing to Reds in the Community, and initially I’ve sought to strengthen those links between RITC and the Club, working shoulder to shoulder with Khaled El-Ahmad. I’ve looked to work closely with the marketing and communications team here, and to really embed Reds in the Community into the Club.
I want to make sure that we work collaboratively with key stakeholders across the town. But again, with the main focus of making a difference. Can we change people’s lives, improve people’s lives? That’s the aim for myself and for RITC. Not delivering projects for the sake of it, but providing real, tangible projects that make a difference.
I know how important football clubs can be within their communities. And with that comes a big responsibility to use that power as a force for good. We have the ability to engage with certain groups, certain people that no other organisations can. And so I’m looking to reach those people, to create impactful projects that reach the people in greatest need. Whether that’s through youth employability programmes, such as those who’ve perhaps been unable to flourish in a classroom environment and would like to progress their careers through football. That’s something I’m going to be looking to introduce.
Mental health is another big one. It’s a big issue, not just here in Barnsley but nationally and I think we certainly have a role to play in engaging with young people in particular and getting them involved in therapeutic sessions that we can deliver. It’s about using the brand of the football club to initiate these conversations and get people to open up and start talking about how they feel.
The food bank is also very relevant. There’s so much going on right now, with the rise in energy and fuel prices, the cost of living and there are so many families who are right on that threshold of falling into poverty. So we are trying to show that we can help tackle that issue. We care about our club and our community, and it’s about being consistent in everything that we do really.
And the main thing I want to ensure, is that the people of Barnsley and the supporters of our club are really proud of what the club does within its community. For a lot of people - and I do understand this - it’s all about the result on the pitch. I get that. But I’d like to try and change people’s mentalities a little so that they see Barnsley Football Club as a six, seven days a week organisation that is out there doing good for its town and its people, its community.
We want to make people proud.
In my first couple of months here I’ve been keen to get out there and meet the key stakeholders in the town, such as the council and public health, and tell them a little bit about myself and what I’d like to try and implement here within the community of Barnsley. It’s about finding out what keeps these people awake at night, and where can we help, how can we work together for the greater good.
I have been warmly welcomed everywhere I’ve been so far, it’s been a really positive start and I can definitely sense that shared desire to come together and meet the needs of people in Barnsley. That goes for everyone in the Club also. Not just Khaled, but all of the staff here have made me feel very welcome and I feel like I’ve been here a lot longer than two months. Which is a good sign, because I feel part of the Club already.
I look forward to meeting more supporters over the coming months and thank you all for your support of Reds in the Community.