Liverpool's two-man team on a footie mission

Fast cars, tats and Wags aren’t football’s only story. In Liverpool the beautiful game is being used to divert young people from gangs and crime. Isabelle de Grave talks to Target Football CIC, in our latest RBS SE100 Index business profile, to find out how.

Paul Hurford is sat in his office at Admiral Park football ground as we talk about football and youth inclusion over the phone. Reg Standish is outside cutting the grass of the football pitch. "It's normally this way round," Reg says taking the phone from Paul, when he comes in to take a break from pitch maintenance. 

Paul and Reg have known each other for about eight years, and now run social business, Target Football CIC, bringing football activities and courses to young people in some of Liverpool’s poorest areas. All Target Football's programmes use football to "target" a social need. Its courses are primarily aimed at building the confidence of young people and their ability to connect with others from different backgrounds. The theory is that self esteem and empathy are key factors in the future choices of young people. Choices that place them either firmly in the education system and or in the criminal justice system.

Back in 2010 it was a ‘chin up’ chat in the street spawned the idea for the venture. Paul and Reg had both been working in football and youth inclusion, Paul for a charity called Nacro, and Reg for Merseyside Youth Association. Paul's passion and expertise had grown over six years providing “diversionary activities” and football development programmes to keep young people out of trouble. And Reg had developed a wealth of coaching and mentoring experience as an FA qualified coach.

Coincidentally they were both facing unemployment at the time after brutal UK spending cuts that saw around 500 people lose jobs from the charity sector and thousands more from the public sector in the space of a few years. A few days later the two men were meeting in Reg’s former office to make plans for Target Football CIC.

Without a job between them the end goal looked terrifyingly distant. Like a poorly resourced football team setting its sights on the title race, the odds were stacked against them. Yet every once in a while the underdogs will have their moment of glory.

Sometimes we thought will we ever get there? Now we’re working full time for ourselves, and it’s up to us how we drive the business and where it goes.

Moment of glory

In 2012 and 2013 they won funding from the Big Lottery Fund and BBC Children in Need, giving them £230,000 to invest in programmes over the next three years. This is the biggest income source making them roughly 75% grant reliant, with 25% earned income.

It was third time lucky. Convinced of the need for their work they carried out some research with the Guardian and John Moore's University looking at how young people were affected when youth services lost 21% of its budget in 2011, around the time of the riots. The message was loud and clear, “all the footie is gone, you can’t go anywhere, and there are no workers in the youth centre,” they were told. 

They brought the evidence and their idea for football programmes that would mix young people from different backgrounds, support those struggling to find work after falling out of the education system, and young people who had found themselves in the criminal justice system. 

One of Target Football's recent wins for social inclusion, as the social impact jargon goes, is a collaboration with Liverpool Community FA, to incorporate young offenders into wider under 18s training programmes.  

For Paul football can be a stepping-stone into employment, and that is the aim of their work in Kensington and Toxteth, where Target Football offers an FA-level coaching course. “We’re seeing young people come into our youth club in Toxteth, sign up for fitness programmes, look at coaching courses and go off to study sport at college,” says Paul. “We feel there needs to be a pathway from childhood to adulthood and that’s what we’re trying to provide,” he says. 

“When there’s nothing for young people to do they literally hang round on street corners. It only takes a couple of months to take a wrong turn or get into the wrong crowd and their whole life will be changed,” says Paul.

“We want to keep them active, keep them healthy mixing with young people from different areas and backgrounds, taking part in evening activities so they’re less likely to drift into anti-social behavior”.

This year Liverpool’s children’s services were cut again by £16m. There are already leisure centres earmarked for closure according to the BBC. Meanwhile Target Football is ambitious about growth. “We’re working over the next three years to grow our earned income from 25% to 75%,” says Paul. 

It is this turn around that will support the business in its work, which ranges from projects with the Youth Offending Team, disabled teams, programmes in schools, and a football programme for women aged 16+ in partnership with Mossley Hill FC, a women's team in the Northern Combination, one of England's top leagues.

Sustainability tactics

One income stream comes from the management and maintenance of the Admiral Park recreation grounds for Plus Dane Group, a social housing provider and 'neighbourhood investor'. The enterprise uses 80% of the income generated by this contract to invest in its programmes and 20% goes into a maintenance fund. “We’re looking into new sites at the moment to help us expand,” says Paul.

Other sources of earned income include funds generated from a youth club in Toxteth, leisure centre holiday activities funded by Liverpool City Council, Saturday football courses, soccer parties and soccer camps. 

We don’t want to be grant reliant, though we will always apply for grants if they are there.

Getting the business up and running was a huge challenge. They started in the corner of a small office in a sports centre with a little desk and one laptop between them, and both took on part time jobs to keep money coming in. Between them they shared the weight of lifting the business off the ground, coaching and coordinating, doing office admin, fund writing and bid writing.

“We did burn ourselves out a little bit,” says Paul, “Sometimes we thought will we ever get there? Now we’re working full time for ourselves, and it’s up to us how we drive the business and where it goes,” he says.

Now the challenge is sustainability, and the sleepless nights aren’t over. Paul will be thinking of "new ideas and projects so that we can get some income in and keep going”, and untill the business has kicked its revenue generators into gear Reg will be worrying about his personal finances, "it'll be my mortgage". After all the blood, sweat and tears what keeps them going?

“We’ve played football since we were children,” says Reg.“We know it works and we know we make a difference to young people”. “We’re a good team,” says Paul. “He’s a red (Liverpool) and I’m a blue (Everton),” says Reg. But when it comes to support for young people and the Liverpool community they are on the same side.

RBS SE100 Index Statistics

Target Football CIC is...

24th out of 880 on the SE100 Growth Index, with annual growth of 307%
3rd out of 86 in terms of growth in the North West
5th out of 103 in the Leisure, Sports, Arts and Culture segment
Scores a social impact measurment rating of 2/10

Check out the full SE100 profile here.