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Positive change without football
Written by David Duke, founder of Street Soccer Scotland
21 May 2020
It’s mental health awareness week and my first thought is that this week will mean something completely different for everyone, just as the virus crisis has brought unique challenges to us all.
Those who have already been through periods of mental ill health and those who are only feeling its effects for the first time will be coming to terms with their experiences in really hard times.
At Street Soccer Scotland, we know that people build resilience in the bad times rather than the good times so everyone will be learning now. Right now, it is really hard for our players. The sense of purpose and community they had when they were together on and off the pitch – and the structure in their lives – not to mention the physical and mental benefits of playing football – have all been taken away. That’s tough for these people and I worry about some of my players withdrawing and going back to old harmful ways.
The stark fact is many more people are now experiencing a way of life that was normality for some of our players. Being cut off from family and friends, the fear of the unknown, financial insecurity, no work, not being able to go to the cinema or a restaurant – sadly many of these things are the daily way of life for our players. Homelessness, poverty, mental illness all act as permanent barriers to joining in, to being part of something more – having that sense of friendship and community.
We’ve been doing as much as we can for our players to help combat the extra pressures of Covid-19. We’ve acknowledged the fact that things are different by changing our purpose temporarily, from Positive Change Through Footballto Positive Change WITHOUT Football. We’ve made a big effort to adapt what we do to meet the needs of our players.
And I’ve been lucky to have so much work to do during lockdown, trying to improve our approach and our response, and looking forward to post-Covid times when we can be back with the players again. I think about the worries I might have had in earlier days – things like keeping safe, worrying about my parents, bringing in money to buy food and pay bills. I’m thankful that I’ve got a wee bit more security now, but I know that a lot of people don’t and it’s draining.
Positivity and creativity have to be the ways through this lockdown, although I know that it’s hard to be positive in such a crisis, knowing that people’s lives are at risk every day and that families and people across the countries are losing their livelihoods. I do believe, however, there is always room for optimism, even in the most challenging of times.
Our sense of community is back, we are chatting to neighbours and looking out for the most vulnerable in society. More than ever, we appreciate our friends and family and will hopefully cherish time spent together in the future and take less for granted, knowing now how quickly and ruthlessly some parts of our lives can be taken away, in some cases overnight.
We have also seen the pace at which governments and services can changepolicy and take meaningful steps for those in the greatest of need, such as people facing homelessness. Why can’t they move at the same pace in the good times? All of this I hope will make our communities, our broader society and the world a better place.
We must not forget these experiences – good and bad. Our collective memory of this difficult period can influence the way we live and work in the future. There has to be a better way.
If we remember what it feels like to be cut off from friends, family and society, the acute anxiety for our health and of that of those we love, we can make every life a better one.
Kindness should not just be something we offer in mental health awareness week – let’s hold on to it for all time. Just like tackling homelessness is not something we should only do at Christmas time.
Above all, community spirit cannot just be something that was revived during the lockdown – it must be an enduring feature of all of our lives and the foundations of the better, more caring society that emerges from this crisis.
To ensure it can continue its vital work, Street Soccer Scotland is hosting its first-ever virtual black-tie gala dinner – providing the perfect night in for families, friends, and colleagues.
The fundraising gala will feature a bespoke digital menu, prepared by Michelin star chef Nick Nairn and Liverpool full-back and Scotland captain Andy Robertson will take part in an ‘in conversation with’ session with David. BAFTA award-winner Gary Tank Commander, Sir Tom Hunter, and singer-songwriter Tom Grennan will also feature.
The event costs £50 per household. Tickets can be booked via www.streetsoccerscotland.org.
About David Duke MBE
In 2003, David was homeless and living on the streets of Glasgow. A visit to a young person’s support centre changed all that, ultimately giving him the opportunity to represent his country at the global Homeless World Cup tournament.
In 2009, David founded Street Soccer Scotland to address issues including health, social exclusion and education. Now, in 2020, the organisation delivers a wide range of programmes across the length and breadth of Scotland in association with local and national government, sports governing bodies, a broad range of charities, housing associations and professional football clubs all with the aim of improving the lives of those who face some of society’s biggest challenges.
David is a regular contributor at the international Doha Goals Forum and has been a speaker at other global events including TEDx, Beyond Sport Global Summit and was an honoured guest of the Special Olympics in LA. Duke is also Global Ambassador for the Homeless World Cup organisation, an Ambassador for Charity Quarriers, is an Advisory Board Member for UNICEF (Scotland). Duke has also been recognised by Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate for his work in his field. Duke was awarded an MBE in the 2018 New Years Honours List.