Street Soccer Scotland’s female regional co-ordinator Louise Fairweather discusses her role with the charity and how it is celebrating International Women’s Day.
The charity uses football inspired training and personal development as a medium to empower people who are affected by social exclusion.
Sky Sports News headed down to its International Women’s Day event at Change Centre Dundee, where Louise shared her story.
She said: “I’m an ex-heroin addict myself. I got into a little bit of trouble in 2017 and luckily, there was an option at court – go to a mentor or go to custody.
“My mentor then bought me along to Street Soccer, football was my passion and luckily, a job was coming up and I landed it and here we are.
“I feel accepted again. That was a big part, getting the confidence up. Street Soccer made me feel part of society again. They didn’t see my past, it was about ‘here we are, what can we do to help?’.
“I always reflect [on what life could have been like without Street Soccer] near enough every day, especially after a day’s work when you get that wind down time and you do just stop and think about how far you’ve come and how different my life is. It’s completely full circle from what it would’ve been.
“Coming from some of the same backgrounds, you make a better connection sometimes. When they [the people who use the charity] feel like they have a struggle, some people might not understand.
“I’d say ‘this worked for me, do you want to try it? If not, let’s find something that does work for you and we’ll do it together’. Just seeing their confidence grow and seeing them become a team is the best feeling in the world.
“This will always be an open, safe space for everyone to come in. We do work with a lot of people with drug and alcohol [issues], homelessness, mental health, but the doors will always be open to anyone.”
Louise was speaking at a Street Soccer Scotland’s International Women’s Day tournament at Change Centre Dundee, located in the heart of the community as a welcoming space for people from all backgrounds to come together, socialise, and participate in Street Soccer Scotland’s wide-ranging programmes.
The tournament aimed to celebrate the achievements of women in the charity’s women’s only programme, Street45, and raise awareness of the barriers they have faced and overcome.
Teams from across Street Soccer programmes across Scotland, including Dundee, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, as well as local partner organisations, competed in the small-sided tournament.
“The hope and aim is to just have fun, get some football games in and have a good catch up with all the different cities because we’re all the same team,” Louise said.
“The big picture is pushing forward on life, not being stuck with that stigma. It’s about what help we can give each individual person and what they need and lets help them achieve what they need to achieve.
“One thing that may work for one, won’t work for the other, but that’s the good thing about Street Soccer – let’s find something that does work for each individual person. It’s not about anything else than that person and what they require.”
Another attendee of the event, Kirsty Oliphant, also described the ways in which Street Soccer Scotland has helped her after a period of mental illness.
She encourages anyone suffering with the same to reach out to one of Street Soccer’s centres across the UK, or simply start making small steps to start moving each day.
She said: “It was unfortunate circumstances [before Street Soccer Saturday]. I was detained in hospital and there was a student nurse who came up to me – because I was always kicking about in the garden with a football – and said ‘have you heard of this’. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it, but I haven’t looked back since.
“Half of my life has been tarred by ill mental health, in and out of hospitals and in a really bad cycle.
“But it’s not only changed my life for the better, it’s transformed it completely. I’m a completely different person – my life looks so much better and more hopeful now because of this place. Even knowing myself and coming out of my shell. I’m a lot more confident than I was.
“When you walk through these doors, we all have different stories and different backgrounds, and different challenge to this day. But when we get here, we’re all part of the same team and it’s an immense sense of belonging and unity that you have here. It’s a cliché but we’re a massive family.
“There are Street Soccer centres around Scotland and England. It’s easy to say but if there’s one near you, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain – I’m living proof of that. If there’s not a centre, then just get out for a walk, a kickabout and get yourself moving. It really does help.”