Monday, 16 July 2012

The Bernie Coleman Experience

No, it's not an experimental jazz quartet but a new matchday community project funded by the ex-Wimbledon FC director!
Bernie has been along to a number of our matches and is very keen to ensure that the 'Wimbledon experience' continues to be available to as many youngsters as possible who might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy the unique atmosphere of a supporter-owned and run club. With his generous offer of funds and what was pretty much a blank canvas, we had to decide on a workable format for the project that would provide something more than just the offer of a few free tickets. After some thought and a little research we came up with an idea that seems to be workable (we hope) for everyone!
We've drawn up a list of about 25 organizations that work with children. They are a fairly mixed group of local charities, branches of national charities, special schools, support groups, youth centres, hospitals and hospices and cover as wide a range of issues as possible. We've begun approaching these organisations with the offer of 'The Bernie Coleman Experience at AFC Wimbledon'  for a one of our home games for the 2012/13 season and are starting to look at bookings for the early part of the season. 
Merton Young Carers have been invited!
The experience will basically comprise of the offer of twenty seats in the new Kingston Road family stand. How they allocate the tickets and the ratio between carers and the children will very much depend on the nature of their condition. Some will have a high ratio of 1:1 if a parent has to bring a youngster along whereas others such as youth groups, will have a much lower ratio. In some cases we are actively encouraging siblings to attend, especially where a family disability or illness also impacts on their life and where their input and support can often be overlooked. So hopefully the group will arrive in good time for the game and they will be met and welcomed to the ground by a representative of the club who will accompany them to collect their tickets and sort out the seating with them. The youngsters will also receive their own copy of the matchday programme which will be signed by whichever player is on the cover that week. We hope that Haydon will soon become familiar with the section of seating occupied by that weeks guests and will make sure they get a suitable womble greeting and instructions in vocal support! Some of the groups will have visual impairments so he may find himself being stroked more than usual but I don't think he'll mind that too much. There will also be a short note in the programme to let everyone know which group are in attendance and what they are all about but I'll also be noting which groups we hope will be attending which games in the Community Calendar tag at the top of the blog so if you're curious as to who might be down for the next match please have a look.
At half-time our young guests will be treated to a burger, chips and a drink from one of our outlets before we settle down for the second half. Following the inevitable Wimbledon victory the children will then be presented with their own commemorative "AFC Wimbledon Experience"  badge donated by the ever-generous Terry's Badges. A wonderful gesture by Terry and a unique and quality memento of what I hope will be an enjoyable day!
Mac the Monkey -looking good!    
Each group will present different challenges and opportunities for us at the stadium. For example one of our first visitors will be local youngsters from the MACs charity for children born with either no eyes or eyes that are partially developed. Although I'm sure their parents and siblings will keep them informed as to the action one of our challenges will be looking into whether WiFi and radio commentary could be utilised somehow to give some professional commentary on the game. On the opportunities front their mascot, Mac the Monkey, will be joining our mascot triathlon fund-raiser on September 9th and I'm happy to advertise the fact that they still have a few seats available at their annual fundraising dinner
A Night of Glamour - An Evening of Elegance, Opulence and Magical Surprises! which looks suitably decadent in a wholesome way!

We'll have a different set of challenges when the charity Whizz-Kidz visit as we will need to utilise all our available wheel-chair spaces which means sadly splitting the group up but again it's a challege worth putting oursleves out for and I'm sure there will be lots more considerations that we hadn't even thought of coming up in the near future. 
Bernie's generous gesture has provided the club with a wonderful opportunity to get to meet and talk with people and groups representing a wide range of local groups and apart from providing what we hope might be an enjoyable day out I hope we can also enjoy the experience of welcoming some deserving visitors to our club.

If anyone likes the idea of volunteering as a 'meet and greet' representative of the club for the odd game they'd be most welcome and likewise if you know of any other groups we might add to our list for future seasons then please contact us on the email address to the right.

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