A football team which offers Oxford-based refugees and asylum seekers the opportunity to access free training and matches will return in September after hitting its first funding goal.
Based in Cowley, Refugee Football Group is co-run by local charities Oxford United in the Community, Refugee Resource and Asylum Welcome. Weekly sessions are delivered in an open and inclusive environment where all abilities are welcome with a focus on developing key life skills such as teamwork and communication.
A minimum of £10,000 must be raised annually to support running costs which include pitch hire, transport to matches and funding a qualified psychotherapist who offers clinical supervision for participants requiring extra support adapting to life in Oxford.
Ahead of the new season, the group received £5,000 from Oxfordshire Community Foundation’s Community Integration Grant.
Youcef El Barhdadi, the team’s manager, said unlocking the funds came as a huge relief to everyone connected to the squad.
“I cannot express how cathartic it has been for the boys to cross over the white line and kick a football around with those with a shared life experience,” said Youcef. “We try to foster a sense of belonging in the sessions, and hope this has allowed participants to grow into the team and individually in their personal lives.
“It’s a relief we can continue this incredible project in the new academic year as it has the potential to make a real change to so many lives. We’re so grateful to Oxfordshire Community Foundation and its Community Integration Fund and everyone connected to the programme who make the team possible.
“We are continually exploring ways to reach the magic £10,000 figure and hope to secure the team’s future for at least another year very soon.
“The sessions are simply more than just a mid-week kick about. They help to protect refugees and asylum seekers who have never been more vulnerable than they are right now.”
Mark Thomas, Social Inclusion Lead at Oxford United in the Community, added: “I’m proud of what the squad has achieved in the last year and to receive confirmation that the team can continue to operate is great news.
“Providing every person living in Oxfordshire with a positive connection to Oxford United FC is our charity’s core objective, and we hope players feel inspired to have positive aspirations for their futures through the power of football.”
An additional £1530 plus £285 gift aid has been raised via a Crowdfunding page setup by Refugee Resource too.
The charity provides psychological, social and practical support for refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants to help them heal from trauma and suffering and builds new lives as part of Oxfordshire’s diverse community.
Lucy Nichol, Services Development and Delivery Manager, added: “Many refugees and asylum seekers we support arrive in the UK and can find it extremely difficult to access mainstream services.
“Economic, language, cultural and health issues are all barriers which can make it hard for them overcome the trauma of what they have experienced.
“Football and its power to connect individuals from all backgrounds and cultures is a universal trait. We’ve witnessed extraordinary personal and technical development since starting Refugee Football Group and to know the team will return in September is a real boost for everyone.”
Sessions for the new season will begin in September. The team is currently on the lookout for a new weekly training facility and invites any organisation that could support its search to email [email protected].
An extra £3,500 must be raised for the team to operate until July 2023. If you’d like to support Refugee Football Group’s £10,000 fundraising target, please click here.