Wales and Ireland join forces to announce new €1million EU community football partnership to engage disadvantaged communities in social enterprise and health-related programmes

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Following Monday’s crunch World Cup qualifier in Cardiff, the Football Association of Ireland and Vi-Ability are launching a new joint initiative called, ‘More than a Club’.

The ‘More than a Club’ programme has been awarded over €1million of EU funding and is designed to expand the role of football clubs in communities across Wales and Ireland. Vi-Ability and The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) are hoping that the unique attraction of football and sports – which are central to ‘More than a Club’ – will encourage people of all ages, particularly those who are marginalized and from disadvantaged communities, to engage in health-related programmes.

Local clubs will be turned into social enterprises to deliver a range of sport-based, life science and educational programmes, including Vi-Ability’s award-winning ‘Run the Club’ programme. The initiative will be piloted over the next two years at four clubs in Wales and Ireland, with Haverfordwest County, Cork City and Dublin-based Bohemian FC already signed up.

Helping people to become engaged in programmes that support employment and integration is a key part of the Europe 2020 strategy, which has been established to help address key societal challenges and act as the EU's agenda for growth and jobs for the current decade. ‘More than a Club’ also supports the Ireland Wales 2014-2020 European Territorial Co-operation Programme, which is helping to strengthen collaboration between Ireland and Wales, to address these common economic and social challenges.

Following a recent visit to Dublin to kick off the programme, Kelly Davies, Vi-Ability’s CEO said: “This is a step further in our mission to tackle unemployment, community inactivity and club development, as well as being able to share our social enterprise and entrepreneurial expertise across borders. We believe each community has different needs and relish the challenge to work with the Irish FA, to bring more opportunities to the people of Ireland and Wales who need it most.”

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Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government also commented: “This is a very creative approach to improving health and wellbeing in local communities, and the project will benefit hugely from the ideas, expertise and resources that will be shared across the Irish Sea.”

“The Ireland-Wales co-operation programme is a vital platform for collaboration that is bringing investment into our economy and creating opportunities for our businesses, universities and specialist organisations to work together. I’m delighted that €1m of EU funds will be supporting another exciting collaboration between our nations.”

The Irish Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe T.D., said: “The ‘More than a Club’ project is an example of the benefits of the ongoing partnership under the Ireland Wales Programme. EU funding will allow this project to combine the expertise of organisations in the two nations to engage young people in social enterprise through football.”

“The positive impact of continued cooperation under the Ireland Wales Programme is strongly supported by the Irish government and we remain committed to its successful implementation.”

Through the project, participating clubs will deliver community-focused programmes to help improve the physical and mental health of people of all ages, alternative learning opportunities for children and young people, and other social programmes aimed at improving the quality of people’s lives locally.

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Speaking about the initiative, FAI Project Manager, Derek O’Neill, said: “For millions of people, football is a hugely attractive sport to play, to watch and to talk about, but it can also be a powerful vehicle to promote physical health, personal development, community development and general well-being.”

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“The FAI and Vi-Ability are delighted to have secured EU funding to help expand the role and potential of football in the community, and we’re looking forward to working together to exchange ideas, share resources and expertise and develop a flagship model which other football clubs in both nations can seek to emulate.”

For more information about the programme, please email info@vi-ability.org or contact Vi-Ability’s chief operating officer, Shelley Meyern on 01492 583 555.

You can watch here to find out more about Vi-Ability's Run the Club programme.