Newcastle United’s Under-18 squad have been supporting a number of primary schools within close proximity of St. James’ Park in order to raise attendance and aspiration levels amongst pupils.
St Paul’s Church of England Primary School, Hawthorn Primary School, Moorside Primary School and St John’s Primary School – all situated within a two-mile radius of St. James’ Park – were identified for the Academy players to facilitate community engagement as a mandatory aspect of their scholarship programme and, therefore, delivered workshops during school visits to emphasise the importance of key school priorities.
The schools state they have been struggling with high deprivation, low aspiration, low attendance and gang culture, with some pupils having less than 40 per cent of school attendance across the academic year but staff believe the under-18 players have benefited the students in order to improve levels of attendance as well as aspiration and the promotion of teamwork, creating a closer working relationship within the local schools and community in the process.
Despite St. James’ Park being within sight and walking distance for students, many have been unable to visit or able to afford to attend a football match and feel detached from the stadium.
Newcastle United’s Safeguarding and Wellbeing Coordinator, Julie Smith, told nufc.co.uk: “The scholars are doing a community engagement project which we decided to focus on the areas that are surrounding St. James’ Park. The schools have said their students don’t feel the club is part of their identity anymore and would love to have more involvement with it.
“As a result, our scholars went in to discuss the main issues, which were based around low attendance and aspiration, providing presentations on what you can achieve with hard work and good attendance.
“They also talked all about the other jobs that you could do within the club. Schools have been keen for Newcastle United to come and say, actually, you don’t just have to be a footballer – this is on your doorstep and you can all access it with hard work.
“The scholars have absolutely loved the workshops. Afterwards, they all say that it makes them feel good and that they feel they have made a real difference. We talk about the power of contribution and it supports good performance which has had a knock-on effect on the feel-good factor but it can be related to performance too.
“Increased attendance means they are a lot safer and, benefitting them for the long-term, we are showing them that they can aspire to do whatever they want.”
Academy scholars, Josh Donaldson (left) and Rory Powell (right), carry out a presentation to St Paul’s C of E Primary School pupils
Newcastle United Foundation have also supported the Academy scholars with their presentation deliveries whilst Newcastle United Business Club kindly offered to donate incentives, such as club merchandise, match tickets and signed footballs, to raise the children’s attendance in primary schools in order to keep them safe.
Smith added: “The Business Club heard about this and they thought there should never be a time where young people can see the stadium from their bedroom window but not be able to afford to go in.
“As a result, they donated thousands of pounds worth of stadium tours so the schoolchildren could go and have a look inside the stadium but it was linked to attendance and increased positive behaviour.”
Bryn Taylor, Deputy Head Teacher at St. Paul’s Primary School, said: “We are a culturally diverse primary school in inner city Newcastle, with many of our pupils coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our children come from very low-income families as our school is situated in one of the most deprived wards in the country.
“Many of our children are refugees and asylum seekers, in the care system, young carers or in receipt of disabled students’ allowance.
“We would really like for our children to understand the different employment opportunities in an organisation like Newcastle United and understand how they can develop knowledge, skills and qualifications to be the next generation that can be part of the team that drives Newcastle United or other organisations on to success.”
Newcastle United thank DFDS, Newcastle Flooring Company, Great Run Company, Be More Geek, BMW Windows, Esh Group, First Class Supply, Ward Hadaway and Cool Designs for their kind donations.