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Press

West Ham In the Community- and keeping it that way!

Publication
Over Land and Sea
Date published
Saturday 31 August 2013

Now it may surprise you to know that I’m not a full time journalist- although I do find talking to myself is becoming more and more of a regular occurrence. On weekdays, I’m often found at a buzzing little theatre in Camberwell, where community is paramount but so is bringing through young artists and enriching the local area with international talent. Sound familiar to West Ham yet? Okay, I understand that the areas are completely different in terms of product; my scintillating spiel about Guy Demel’s poor positioning goes down as well at the theatre as Butoh inspired dance would amongst these pages (although something tells me we’d be up for anything after the exciting signing of Andy Carroll). Still, I got talking to Blue Elephant Theatre’s very own Participation & Development Director, Jo Sadler-Lovett, over how important it would be for the club to keep engaging with the East End territories long after the move to Stratford.
I’ve known Jo for a number of years now and three words that you would use to sum up Jo are busy, energetic and extremely generous. As if to prove all of these points, she allowed me to speak to her over lunch which not only took up some of her free time but meant that she had to dodge the spray of Camberwell’s finest sandwich which I happened to be eating.

“While we are clearly different organisations with different personnel and budgets, there will be a lot of similarities between what we are trying to achieve at the Blue Elephant Participation Department and West Ham United” she begins.

I interject, saying that one of the reasons we were awarded the Olympic Stadium was because of our promise to extend our community programmes.

“Well this is it”, she says, “There’s a lot of benefit for communities when they have these kinds of programmes, regardless of whether it’s sport or the arts. One only has to look at the Olympics to see that the two have worked side by side to create excitement and good feeling- and those are just the more obvious benefits.”

That sounds good. I beckon her to go on.

“To start with charities can benefit from more flexible funding. They can suggest areas where funding is needed the most. In turn, businesses can see where their money is going towards and see that it is really helping.”

So in short, West Ham wouldn’t just be putting the money into their different initiatives and schemes but appropriating it effectively?

“Exactly. Businesses and individuals can also supply certain expertise. Bookkeeping for example. They can provide all the right personnel that charities may not have to make sure things are running smoothly.”

It’s fine to do this but on a ground level, how does it help people in the local community?

“More than you’d realise actually. For example, we give young people a place to go after school and at weekends. Not only do our activities give them a real sense of purpose and help them to learn about responsibility but it makes them more aware of the community around them and how they have an impact upon it. What is also satisfying for me is that I can help supplement their development as people but also get them interested in theatre and other aspects of culture that they may not previously have had access to.”

This is certainly food for thought. I can see what the Blue Elephant is achieving. Having worked there for the past two years, I know that the Blue Elephant isn’t a large theatre but its participation department is making huge leaps to help young children.

“It’s not just young children!” Jo smiles “We also have a community play for adults, we run projects tackling mental health and we go into primary and secondary schools and help to supplement their curriculum. We work with all kinds of age groups.”

So, one must consider the fact that if the tiny Blue Elephant is able to do this amount on quite a large scale, one can only dream of what West Ham can do as a club with their community projects.

“There’s no hiding that we get people involved in theatre. West Ham will be the same. Not only will people gain from their schemes but they will see the club as a great place and will more than likely support it back.”

So West Ham are reaching out to people and will more than likely be building their own ‘community’ of supporters and potential employees?

“It’s a win, win situation. If the people in the local area aren’t fans already, they soon will be. They feel a sense of cohesion and belonging plus they have role models in their facilitators and the players on the pitch.”

It does sound good. The club are helping the local community and creating a sense of unity. One concern is that all the West Ham fans have moved to outer Essex and that the East End is no longer dominated by Hammers, as it once was. It seems as if the locals aren’t involved with the club. These initiatives could not only help the local area but will help bring the community of Newham back into the West Ham community.

“It’s obviously great to involve locals but at the same time it doesn’t stop anyone else getting involved. Whether it’s time or money that you’re offering, everything will be appreciated. I know that we appreciate all the help that we get.”

I thank Jo for her time. It’s great to know that the club are trying to engage with the community. No matter how low key it seems to us, there is an awful lot going on. As discussed, this is participation on a massive scale. The Blue Elephant and Jo engaged 1,069 people alone in 2011 (the 2012 results haven’t been published yet but it’s expected to be a larger number!) If you’d like to get involved in volunteering projects you can go to www.do-it.org.uk . Community matters and the people in it make that community. Come on you Irons/Elephants!