You know you’re near Goodison Park, home of Premiere League side Everton Football Club (EFC), long before the top of the strand peeks its head above the grooves of terraced houses which surrounds it. The ‘Blue Mile’, as the club has christened the mile in any direction around the ground , is awash with EFC related insignia – from flags on the side of main roads, to pieces of street art and royal blue establishments. But this paraphernalia doesn’t simply signpost the 40,000 plus fans who come to cheer on their beloved team on match day; a team that has played more top flight games than any other in England. The blue mile signifies the immediate community surrounding the stadium, which EFC, which EFC – the club’s business which turns over £120+ million per year – and its charity Everton in the Community (EitC), consider to be more than just neighbours – they’re friends, and in increasing numbers, colleagues.
Goodison Park is one of the oldest districts of Liverpool; an area which has had its fair share of hardship over the past few decades – falling into the most deprived ten percent of neighbourhoods in the UK in recent times.Child poverty levels in Everton are also high, with over half of the children living below the breadline. Except for nearby Stanley Park, the mile around the ground is densely packed with terraced housing – almost 10,000 properties sit within this mile.
EitC was launched in 1998, to help tackle many of the issues that its immediate neighbours face – and those faced by people across Merseyside. Today, EitC employs 120 full-time staff, 72 casual staff and 200 volunteers, who operate 62 annual programmes from its base, just a three-minute walk from Goodison Park. The purpose-built community hub stands on the same site as a community green space, and the Everton Free School – a sixth form college for 14-16 year olds who struggle in mainstream education. In 2015, EitC engaged with over 20,000 people across the 62 programmes, tackling a broad range of issues from children’s health and wellbeing, to employment training for people in later stages of their career.
EFC considers EitC as one of the four pillars of the business – the football club, its youth team academy and free school make up the others – and each of these four pillars are intertwined, making it hard to unpick the business of running a Premiere League football club from the charity work that is undertaken by EitC. Currently, 75% of the apprentices trained at the community hub go on to work at the club is some capacity; from helping manage the clubs websites and media operations, to day-to-day business admin.
Since 2010, EitC has won over 80 awards, including: ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ and the ‘Best Community Scheme in Europe’; at the Stadium Business Awards. The EitC campus includes the community hub or the ‘Peoples Hub’ as it has been named in true Everton fashion. The Everton Free School and adjoining green space, represent a £6million investment from the football club itself , plus additional funding by the club’s partners and sponsors. It also means that if the club decides to relocate Goodison Park- which under its new owners increasingly seems like an inevitability – its community work will always be rooted on its home turf.
EFC director and EtC’s executive chair, Denise Barrett-Baxendale, said: “It’s important to us that we continue to build on the work of Everton in the Community and remain embedded in our community. While it’s much deeper that bricks and mortar, these buildings are a physical demonstration of how we are broadening our work in L4. This area has been our home for well over a century and while our stadium may take us elsewhere in the future, a piece of Everton will always remain through our commitment to working with this commitment to working with this community.”
Today, Barrett-Baxendale heads up EitC and sits alongside a restructured board of directors, following investment by its majority shareholder, and former Arsenal Football Club shareholder, Farad Moshiri. In 2014, Barrett-Baxendale was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the community of Merseyside, through her work with EitC.
Last year, the club’s under 23 team manager – former player David Unsworth – and his players made a proposal which would offer much needed help for to the local community, named ‘Home is where the heart is’. Following Unsworth’s pitch, EFC purchased a house which sits next to the stadium – 41 Goodison Road – to be used as a shelter providing supported living for 16-24 year old men who are at risk of becoming homeless. Unsworth and his team have committed to help raise £231,000 to help fund this space through several activities – including the squad sleeping on the streets of Liverpool for the night.
“Home is where the heart is’ will see us offer that same level of support to the most needy across Liverpool and draw upon all areas of expertise within Everton in the Community, to ensure that young people accessing the facility will be given tangible life skills to set them on the right path in life.”
In 2015, EFC employed Sarah Atherton as its neighbourhood manager, the first Premiere League club to employ someone in this capacity. The role, which started off by knocking on the doors of residents and shop owners to say hello has grown in importance to both the club and its surrounding residents. The role means that EitC and residents within the Blue Mile have someone to call on at the club, if they need to; they receive quarterly newsletters and updates about match days at Goodison Park; and a Christmas card is sent to every one of them each year.
“We have several new focuses that will impact on the Blue Mile in various ways,” Atherton says, when asked of her hopes for the coming year. “From continuing our Youth Zone for younger people; to starting knit and natter social groups; to launching health groups such as ‘blue walks’ for residents. The reason behind these groups is to target all age ranges and interests within our neighbourhood. Capturing all interests and impacting increasing health, wellbeing, education, employment and welfare statistics in the area.”
It is likely that in 2017, EFC will announce that it is leaving Goodison Park to move to a new home in the city. In instances across the country where a football club leaves a place, the community goes on to face significant challenges; the loss of a regular influx of football fans who eat, drink and spend in the local economy leaves its mark and communities suffer as the money and subsequent investment leaves. But in this case it’s different; the Blue Mile around Goodison Park will become the Blue Mile around the community hub and free school – the place where EFC’s work in the community happens. The football club may move on but the kids playing in the streets will still wear the Everton crest proudly on their football shirts, as well as the EitC staff and volunteers in the place that gave the club its name.