Saturday, 26 November 2011

Community Update - What's Going On?

Ann Long (LB Merton), Luther Blissett (Show Racism The Red Flag)
and Clive Yelf (hanger-on)
It's been fairly busy in the world of the Community Dons over the last week or so, but as most of this activity is of the sort that can easily slip by unnoticed I thought supporters might be interested in hearing about them before they slip in to the distant past.

If I'm involved with a specific project, such as a flag workshop, I like to try to follow through the actual stages of production, but by the time a project actually kicks off there's already been quite a bit of too-ing and fro-ing to get to that stage. In fact it's often the tip of the community iceberg because not everything comes off first time of asking. Some projects never get off the ground, others just take a while to get going whilst a few more have to be shelved for the time being due to lack of time or resources. Whilst all that is going on I suppose the silence on the community side might seem a little deafening!

I'll try to redress that balance a little by giving a bit of a run-through of some recent activities and opportunities that have come up. I'll try to be brief-ish because I'm aware of my tendency of getting carried away when talking about things I'm interested in so I'll just concentrate on the most recent happenings over the last week...

"Show Racism The Red Card" at the Cherry Red Stadium
Kicking things off on Monday 21st November was the preparation for the following days 'Kick Racism Out Of Football!' training day. More on the day itself later, but I had been contacted a couple of months ago by Ann Long from LB Merton who works in the Education department of the council. art of her remit is to arrange training on equality issues with teachers in Merton, Sutton and Kingston. Training around issues of racism and equality is never the most popular of topics so she had wondered if, by approaching AFC Wimbledon, we might be able to make it slightly more appealing!

After a couple of meetings we agreed to provide the venue for training which was going to be provided and delivered by the charity "Show Racism The Red Card!". I would kick of the day by providing a guided tour of the ground and changing rooms that would be on the theme of the problems the club face in developing a non-league ground for life in the league. Basically I'd be pointing out all the improvements we'd already made and those that still needed to be addressed! Even if the delegates weren't football supporters I thought that they might find an explanation of the issues facing us to be of interest. I also had a slot during the day for a presentation showing the community projects we'd already undertaken (such as flag workshops) as well as those we were now able to offer (such as using the stadium environment  for applied learning in a range of subjects). The Community Football Scheme had the chance to inform attendees of some new (free) projects provided by nPower.

That was in the pipeline for Tuesday though and Monday was spent trying to design and print out some handouts for the delegates as well as designing a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying key messages! When that was sorted(-ish!) it was over to the stadium where Erik gave me my own quick tour and provided me with the required facts and figures (hastily scribbled down). The most time consuming issue though was to set up an exhibition of the 'Flying the Flag for Haydon' project as a backdrop to the days training, consisting of children's drawings, press cuttings, photos and flags. When it was finished though I thought it looked pretty good and a real tribute to all the children who'd put in so much time and effort.

'Show Racism The Red Card!' session well under way
Tuesday 22nd November was the big day of the week for me I suppose. It was a full day's session with about fifteen teachers and a few others involved.Jim had arranged all the technical bits and sorted out all the teas and coffees so we were good to go. I have to say that the trainers were excellent and as teachers themselves with experience of classes they certainly seemed to engage well with the delegates. The tour seemed to go down quite well, even when we found we were locked out and couldn't access the changing rooms! We skulked back to start the day a little earlier than planned but made up for it by resuming at lunchtime with the added bonus of having Phil open up the new control room and take us through the matchday procedures. After the first coffee break Paul spoke as planned about the free schemes now on offer and I did my bit to avoid 'death by powerpoint' by keeping it short and sweet. I'd have to say that the interest shown by the delegates in how we could work with them was very positive and I'm very hopeful that something will come out of it. I've found that actually talking to people is worth dozens of emails that rarely seem to get past the school administrators!

Watford and England striker Luther Blisset was in attendance to provide his personal experiences of racism in the 70s and 80s and we were also joined by Osei Sankofa, currently playing alongside Luke Garrard at Boreham Wood in the Conference South.

Wednesday 23rd November - In the morning I popped over to have a look at the new exhibition space in Morden Hall Park where we have been given space in January to put on a flag exhibition. There also seems to be sophisticated video equipment so now there's the possibility that we could add videos and slide shows into the mix. The current exhibition is very slick and professional and I'm getting just a little bit anxious. I'm sure it'll be all right on the night though.

The Heart of the Park, Morden: The exhibition space is the building on the right
That Wednesday evening I was pleased to have a phone call from the leader of our local Beaver pack regarding flag painting with the youngsters. I'd accidentally gate-crashed a management meeting of the Scout group a week or so earlier and had given an impromptu talk about the project and they were keen to get started on it. I figured that youth groups could be far more flexible than schools and would probably be able to react to opportunities like this far quicker. This seems to be the case and we penciled in Friday 2nd December as the evening to start the project which will require the design and printing of a hand-out and design sheet for them to take home to jot down their ideas after the meeting. I'll be taking in some flags and a womble to give them some ideas and to get them thinking about what they could do. They have Christmas activities coming up so the actual painting will probably be held over for a bit, but that's fine. 

Luther Blisset was quite taken with the schools flags and they made an attractive backdrop
The Cubs are also going to be involved with their own flag but here we are going to integrate the process with the Artist Activity badge which will require the cubs to complete three key tasks. Firstly to produce a painting or drawing of their own flag design (A4); secondly to work on the full scale flag; thirdly to design a poster advertising the flying of the flag at an AFC Wimbledon home match. If they pass all three stages I hope we might be able to present them with their badges at half time, which might well be a first in cub history for all I know!

Thursday 24th November: Winter Wonderland Parade day! Sadly I couldn't make it as a couple of other community events had come up. Firstly I was due to have a meeting with Anna, the literacy specialist at Raynes Park High school. I'd been in touch with the school to see if they would be interested in a literacy project we are hoping to launch and was due to meet her after school at 3.40pm.

Another view of the room showing the flag display.
A spot of luck beforehand though. Whilst I was in the local Tesco I noticed a mascot lion roaming about. I nobbled him before he could get too far and found that he was from Goals opposite. This time I didn't have to use the tranquiliser dart and he's now signed up for next years mascot obstacle race (or two, possibly...)

The meeting at Raynes Park High School went very well and we seem to be on the same wavelength with regard to the project. I now have to write it all up so she can present it to her colleagues and we can take it from there. This project is receiving funding from the Conference so now we've moved up we'll only have it for the year so I really would like this one to be a success.

Whilst the parades were taking place in Wimbledon, Merton Council had arranged an open meeting of interested community groups to be held in the council chamber. The topic was basically how community groups could contribute to both the Queens Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics and the upshot of it was that I thought we might be able to provide two different events that could raise both funds and the profile of the club locally. 

Firstly a special one-off running of the mascot race during the official Diamond Jubilee celebration event might be a good idea - the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Mascot Stakes, no less! I would envisage local sport, community and commercial mascots each fundraising prior to the race. Two cups - the smaller one for winning the race, the larger one for raising the most money! We'd be fundraising for a local organisation working with disabled children. Our experience of this years mascot race would stand us in good stead and I can see this being very popular on the day. Haydon is up for it and so is the Goals lion so it looks like game on...

Secondly - and more something for the Olympic celebration possibly - a vertical race up the central stairs of the Civic Centre in Morden with electronic tags and timing and proper results and medals. I could see this tying in with health awareness and other issues and again could be both a serious race with 'proper' athletes and, say, teams of four from the boroughs primary schools. This has actually been bubbling about for a year or two now, but this seems to be as good an opportunity as any to dust it down and set it up.And the best thing is it doesn't matter if it rains!

Of course I've now got to write up my suggestions and submit them through the usual channels, so we'll see how far they get.

Friday 25th November:  Another of our part-funded projects is one based on music called the Big Blast Band! We are working in partnership with the Merton Music Foundation and Crown Lane Recording Studio on this and the first of these projects is with our old friends from High Path day centre. Without going into too much detail at this point (I'll be following this project with regular updates) we hope to take about fifteen individuals through a ten week music course where they will be able to explore instruments, recording and singing and all of which will culminate in a half-time rendition for fellow Dons supporters  near the end of the season. Others may take part in recording backing vocals or in designing a CD cover sleeve for their recording, so it will cover more activities than may be apparent. This will be a real challenge for a group of people not used to having their voices heard and is by far and away the most complex of our projects to date and Friday morning was a chance for us all to get together and to look at the space available, to figure out where they can store my old drum-kit and to look at basic time frames. Another very successful and enjoyable meetings and I'm more than confident it will be a great success.

Well there it is. Not a typical week really as so many different projects were floating about at once but I hope it gives some impression of the scope and range of community based activities that the club are trying to develop. I'm tempted to say 'It only took nine years!' but I think I'd like to look back on a year when things had actually been accomplished rather than planned before I could make that sort of boast!

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