The Aston Villa Foundation have partnered with Amnesty International UK to launch a ‘Football Welcomes’ project that will help refugees and people seeking asylum feel welcome in the local community.
Villa are one of five football clubs in England that will be working with Amnesty over the next three years to set up ‘community alliances’ to create a more welcoming environment for people who have fled conflict and persecution.
Through a partnership with St Chad’s Sanctuary, Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Settlement, the Foundation will be providing English lessons and football sessions at Villa Park on a weekly basis for women and men from 11 countries to build up the skills, confidence and connections needed to thrive in a new community.
Club legend Brian Little attended the launch event at Villa Park, and he was proud that Aston Villa are helping to positively impact lives.
“It’s another worthwhile route for the club to go down. I think the session will grow and I think it will help people integrate into the local area,” he said.
“All the benefits that a lot of us take for granted – we should always remember that there’s someone worse off. Anything that the club can do to help is fantastic.
“Football is an unbelievable pathway to getting people together, and we should use that as much as we possibly can.”
Amnesty’s Football Welcomes Manager, Naomi Westland, believes the project will play a crucial role in helping refugees to feel welcome into new communities.
She said: “We want different organisations within communities to be pooling their knowledge, resources and expertise so that when somebody, who has fled conflict and persecution, arrives in Birmingham or any other city in the UK, they feel welcomed into the local community.
“We’re really excited to be working with Aston Villa and the Foundation to see how the project develops over the next three years.”
Birmingham is a richly diverse city, providing a home to people from all over the world.
The Foundation’s Programmes Manager, Pete Ezard, says the club’s project will help its participants in a number of ways.
He said: “Football has a unique way of bringing people together and we are really looking forward to working with other organisations in Birmingham that support refugees, as well as with schools, the county FA, fans groups and others, to make sure our community is welcoming to all.
“We hope the new skills and connections people will develop through this programme will help them adjust to life in the UK and to rebuild their lives here.
“Through the power of football we aim to combat isolation and break down barriers so everyone can feel safe and happy, no matter where they are from.”