How Sheffield United are keeping kids out of trouble and easing the strain on the NHS

Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey. Picture: Chris Etchells
Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey. Picture: Chris Etchells
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The prowess of Sheffield United as one half of this football mad city is well known.

But their role easing the strain on public services is less familiar.

SUCF session in action. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

SUCF session in action. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

Sheffield United Community Foundation is playing a vital part in all walks of life and they're on a mission.

Educating young minds has been at the forefront of the foundation for many years but another focus is improving the physical and mental health of those they engage with.

The club has seen first hand the power they can have. From keeping kids out of trouble to averting extra strain on the NHS - they're having a positive effect.

With the help of brand Blades, they are reaching communities through education, sport, health and wellbeing.

Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey with Reece Littlejohn, Joe Lancashire, and Chris Marshall. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey with Reece Littlejohn, Joe Lancashire, and Chris Marshall. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

Belfast-born Mark Todd, a good friend and former teammate of United first-team gaffer Chris Wilder, is passionate about the role he plays in all of this.

A former professional, he signed for Manchester United before joining the S2 club. A serious knee injury forced him to retire while at Rotherham.

He's head of the foundation and has seen dramatic change in his 10-year stint in this extremely important role.

Mark used to get job satisfaction helping the Blades to victory on the hallowed turf at Bramall Lane. Now he takes pride in seeing people improve their health or opportunities in life.

SUCF session in action. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

SUCF session in action. Picture: Chris Etchells/The Star

People may still have a narrow opinion of what any community foundation does, not just at Sheffield United.

Some may see it purely from a footballing point of view, but as Mark goes on to explain, their reach reflects the diversity of the city.

"I think some people from the outside might be surprised what we do. We reach every postcode in the city with some sort of community work - it's not just about football but obviously Sheffield United is best know for that," Mark said, speaking to The Star in the canteen at the Steelphalt Academy in Shirecliffe.

"It's important that football clubs have things like this. What it does, it provides many more opportunities for fans to engage with the football club they love and not just through games.

Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey. Picture: Chris Etchells

Feature on Sheffield United Community Foundation. Pictured are Mark Todd and Chris Bailey. Picture: Chris Etchells

"We're changing people's lives and in some of the programmes we're saving lives.

"We're lucky we've got this brilliant brand of Sheffield United we can use to promote our fantastic work and from that we're making a positive impact on so many lives creating opportunities for people."

Chris Bailey is the SUCF manager. Coming from a teaching background, he's been part of the club for over six years.

He explains the club has recently undergone a partnership with the Yorkshire Football Foundation to capture data and identify where the gaps in their service are. It's clear from Mark and Chris they don't want to leave a part of the city untouched.

"If we find a particular hotspot area where we don't deliver a type of programme, we ask ourselves if we can deliver it in certain community or area," Chris said.

"Health and wellbeing is massive for us at the moment. The NHS at the minute is quite a significant discussion point locally and nationally and we want to do our bit and help try and relieve some of the pressure on services.

"We want to improve the physical, social and emotional well being through brand of the football club. It's really important to us."

Health walks are on of the ways the club makes links with people who find themselves isolated and brings them back in society.

"We had this one woman who had been isolated for a number of years, really cut off from it all," Mark said.

"She's a big United fan and she'd heard about our health walk through one of our partners and because it was the Blades she got back out and now she's engaged which's brought an improvement in her physical and mental health.

"That's just one example of the magic that we're delivering in this city at the moment and we hope it continues as long as we're around."

The club are passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of all of Sheffield's residents and Mark is focused on where the foundation is heading.

"If I have no motivation to get out of the house and to connect in a social way then I'm going to be a burden on the NHS. This is why football clubs are so powerful in their towns and cities right across the country," he said.

"This is usually because the clubs are the focal point for their area. Sheffield is a huge sporting city not just for football and people will connect and go red or blue. The clubs are so well established and are well loved by thousands of fans. If we can continue to use the badge to get more people active then we're doing something right."

From the Fit Fans group where the club helped a group of overweight supporters shed nearly 100lbs between them, to walking football where one 79-year-old attendee is 'booting people left, right and centre' in his old age. All are having a positive affect.

Todd hails walking football as a 'huge phenomenon' and the success from sessions has caught the eye of those down in London.

Six of their regular guys have been selected for England trials.

Another success story Mark recalls was one guy who made the progression from the Fit Fans group to walking football.

"One of the lads was isolated for about three or four years at the time but later on I bumped into him after the programme in Morrison's and he introduced me to his family and it was overwhelming for me.

"They were thanking me for the impact we'd had on his life. It was a bit of a teary moment but it was class and that's why we're in this job.

"I've seen the sporty side and the success football can bring but that is equally as important to me in my life."

A short walk through the bowels of the training complex to the indoor 3G pitch sees one group of the education cohort practicing their football skills.

The education programme is well established with a wide range of qualifications including the National Citizen Service.

Looking back, it's clear just how far they've come.

When they launched their education programme, they had a cohort of seven. Now their classrooms are full and 85 students head through the door - something Todd hails as an 'amazing achievement'.

"We started and had a cohort of seven - a bunch of 14-year-olds, bad lads really, but now we're offering BTEC, diplomas and foundation degrees.

"Expanding different aspects means we can include more people and help them in their own way - make them more educated, improve their health, improve their social skills is all about what we want to do."

To find out more about the work Sheffield United Community Foundation do, visit their website here.

The key numbers

Engaged with 17,473 people in 2016/2017

Delivered over 142,000 hours of community engagement

891 children participated in SUCF three football camps

Helped 102 unemployed people prepare to get back into work

16 people studying at degree level

Had 865 young people engage with the National Citizen Service