Focus: Frontline - Princes Trust's Football Initiative

Graham Willgoss,

WHAT IT IS: A 12-week team programme designed to improve the skills, qualifications and confidence of young people struggling with their lives

WHAT IT DOES: Uses football to get young people interested in its personal development programme and gives them the qualifications and work experience they need to improve their job prospects

HOW IT'S FUNDED: By the FA Premier League, the Professional Footballers Association and the Football Federation. These organisations have provided £3.8m since the project began in 1997 and have recently agreed to fund it until 2008 with a pledge of £2m

"I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning," says Gemma Burns, a former participant in the Princes Trust's Football Initiative. "It's given me an enormous amount of motivation and something to believe in again."

Burns, 20, from Liverpool, left home and moved into a hostel when her family broke up shortly after she had left school. She "fell in with the wrong crowd" and approached the trust herself through its helpline for disadvantaged 14 to 25-year-olds.

She took part in and completed the team programme supported by Liverpool FC. The programme features a confidence- and team-building week in the Lake District that includes outdoor activities, a first-aid course, fundraising events for local charities, CV and interview technique tutorials and a fortnight on work placement in an area participants choose.

Challenging behaviour

"The most challenging thing about it is the behaviour of young people in the first few weeks," says Donna McArthey, project leader for the programme supported by Liverpool. "You're never sure what has happened in their lives and you've got to learn the most sensitive way to approach them."

Fifteen young people take part in each programme, although McArthey admits "not all of them make it through every time". However, the trust has recently had its 10,000th young person complete the scheme. Most participants are recommended to take part in the programme by youth organisations and youth offending teams. Each programme is supported by one of 60 football clubs, which provide resources including player appearances and learning facilities to motivate participants.

"You can see the change it's making in their lives and knowing that you can make a difference makes it very rewarding," says McArthey. "It's great to see them come out of themselves, develop their skills and get re-engaged with society."

Burns now works with McArthey as a volunteer mentor on the course and would eventually like to work in a similar role after going back to college.

"I am so proud of my achievements," she says. "I would not be where I am now without the help and support I've had."

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