Street Soccer Scotland (SSS) is a social enterprise that helps people to make positive changes in their lives through football.
Part of their mission is to mobilise people who feel excluded from society and trapped in poverty, so when the opportunity arose to partner with the provider of 95% of all train services in Scotland, it sounded like the perfect fit.
ScotRail teamed up with SSS in 2017 and they have since created a sporting connection that is mutually beneficial.
Scott Hollinshead, operations and governance manager at Street Soccer Scotland, takes up the story.
He said: “Players come to Street Soccer Scotland generally from a background of issues such as addiction and homelessness. They attend drop-in sessions and then have the opportunity to move through a pathway through volunteering or personal development programmes.
“As part of that, we approached ScotRail and initially we got staff passes, enabling them to move between sites without cost.
“Now we receive additional extra smart cards for coaches and players, and we’ve enabled them to bring volunteers with them to drop-in sessions.
“A lot of the people who play in our competitions go on to become volunteer coaches. Half of our staff have lived experience themselves, and it’s important that we employ people who understand how players think and feel.”
In 2018, SSS staged three major national events in Glasgow and Dundee and ScotRail stepped up their contribution by providing free travel for all players to the different sites.
Scott recalled: “It was an opportunity for players to get outside their city, and you have to realise that some of them have never been outside their city without a support worker.
“The free travel passes have helped players become more confident about travelling on public transport.
“This year we changed the format of national tournaments to one single day. In July 2019 we put on the event in Livingston, and again ScotRail provided free tickets for all volunteers, players and coaches.”
Return on investment
So how do ScotRail, as a commercial operation, benefit from the partnership?
Scott explained that the association with a vibrant and growing social enterprise has had a positive impact on public perceptions of the rail provider.
He said: “ScotRail even put up notices on welcome boards at stations. It’s good profile and awareness for them, and it shows that ScotRail care about their community.
“They are able to align with a charity, which is great for them and it’s a positive story.”
John Wilson, ScotRail community liaison executive, added: “We’re really proud to support Street Soccer Scotland. The work they do to drive positive change in people’s lives is incredible, and it’s something that is at the core of ScotRail’s values.
“Supporting communities and organisations with their initiatives is a key part of what we do, and as we continue our work to deliver the best for Scotland’s Railway, we will continue to make a difference to the communities we serve.”
Bigger and better
Scott admitted that the success of this sporting connection has led SSS to consider how the benefits can be amplified to create even wider impact.
He said: “We pride ourselves on being a big family, which links nicely to their ethos. ScotRail is a big brand as well, and that helps us to get our key messages out to a wider audience.
“There is a big push on mental health and suicide prevention, and we can work together to help educate players on these areas.
“At Street Soccer Scotland the vision is to help even more players in even more areas, and ScotRail want to get involved in that by providing transport to new sites where we’ve not been before.
“That would enable us to include more people, which would be huge for us.”