How football helps our college build community beyond the pitch

Learners of all ages benefit from our partnerships with our local club - and everyone can see it

Learners of all ages benefit from our partnerships with our local club - and everyone can see it

10 Jul 2024, 17:00

The current buzz around Euro 2024 adds an important aspect to our community engagement work through football.

As teams from across Europe compete, showing off their extraordinary teamwork and skills, we can actually see the role that football plays in bringing people together.

It’s a timely reminder that while our own efforts are on a much smaller scale, the impact on community and local pride can be just as significant.

As FE providers, we are constantly looking for ways to connect more deeply with our local communities.

A re-energised partnership between South Devon College and Torquay United Football Club is a promising example of what can be achieved.

It’s a collaboration that goes beyond the football pitch, a model for how FE colleges can play a more important role in developing community engagement and creating new opportunities for students and the wider community.

Our work with Torquay United starts with supporting the club’s youth programme, which covers age groups from under-8s to under-19s. Hosting the Torquay United FC Under-19 Football Academy on our campus provides a pathway for young talents to progress into the first team while enrolled on a full-time study programme at the college.

This initiative helps to develop young football talent, increases accessibility to the sport, and brings together families, friends, and local supporters. In short, it creates a sense of community pride and inclusivity.

The college’s sports centre is the official training ground for Torquay United’s first team. This state-of-the-art facility, with 3G pitch and other specialist resources for supporting sports science, nutrition, and fitness, offers the team a professional environment to learn, train and recover.

In exchange, and beyond football, our students get valuable hands-on experience. We are designated the official education partner of Torquay United, creating a variety of work placements for our students within the club’s operations, from sports science to marketing, event management and more. These experiences help students build relationships with local professionals and fans, embedding the college further within the community.

These placements are integral to student development, offering real-world experience and the opportunity to apply academic knowledge in professional settings. By working in different capacities within the football club, students can apply their academic knowledge and develop skills that are valuable in any professional setting.

Through this direct involvement, students enhance their learning experiences and employability, and make valuable connections with local professionals and fans alike, reinforcing college-community ties.

And community engagement is key. We regularly organise community days that invite local children and youth groups to take part in activities at both the college and the football club.

These events, offering thousands of free and discounted tickets to Torbay’s youth via local primary schools, aim to inspire and involve the next generation, promoting physical activity and academic/professional aspirations.

By bringing together different segments of the community — from young children to their parents and local businesses — we help create a shared sense of pride and connection.

The partnership includes plans to support lifelong learning and career development. Torquay United staff will have access to a range of courses provided by South Devon College, including apprenticeships and adult education programs.

This aspect of the collaboration shows the college’s commitment to support people in the community advancing in their careers and illustrates how both partners benefit from working together.

Even though this partnership aims to boost the public perception of our college, I think it’s also helpful to the wider further education and skills sector.

By actively engaging with local initiatives and delivering tangible benefits to the community, I believe we’re demonstrating how colleges can, and do play a central role in local life.

This visibility and involvement can help to generate greater public and political support for further education.

Partnerships like this highlight the importance of building networks and nurturing relationships. The dealings between students, faculty, football club staff, and so many others create a web of connections that benefit the whole local community.

These relationships are important for the development of supportive and inclusive environments where learning and personal growth can flourish.

But, ultimately, it’s about more than football. It’s about creating opportunities, promoting community spirit, and showcasing the important role that further education colleges can play in local life.

This particular partnership model shows how further education can be both a source of learning and a centre of community engagement.

By making our story a shared story within the community, I think we are setting a positive example for the further education sector.

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