For our game against Mansfield this weekend, the club welcomes Charlie Hancock as a mascot - he is here through the Free Kicks Foundation.
Michael Doughty is the Chair of Trustees of the charity and in this week's programme we spoke to him and Steve Thorpe, who runs the charity, about just what it is the they do.
Here is the programme feature:
Swindon Town’s mascot packages are always popular but today we welcome a very special guest and a charity that has become a valued friend of the club.
One of today’s mascots, Charlie, is here through the Free Kicks Foundation who offer ‘kicks’ – Steve Thorpe, who runs the charity, explains what exactly ‘kicks are.
Hi Steve, can you describe what the Free Kicks Foundation does as a charity?
Free Kicks Foundation is a charity that raises money to give disadvantaged children days out at football matches around the country. Whether the children are ill, bereaved, young carers or deserving in any other way, we give them a day out for them and their families to remember, creating special memories and giving them a brief respite from their troubles.
The majority of children or young adults (such as Charlie today) that we take to matches go as mascots, getting the chance to meet the players, tour the stadium and walk out ahead of the match with their favourite player. We can also organise match tickets or hospitality packages, where mascot days are not available or appropriate.
So far we have organised around 900 ‘Kicks’ as we call them, from Premier League to Non-League, in Scotland and at England games. Swindon Town is one of our favourite clubs to visit, we have always had a great welcome from everybody at The County Ground and our mascots are treated to a wonderful day out. Hopefully today sees a win for The Robins to make Charlie’s day.
When and how did the charity start?
The charity started in 2006 with an idea from one of our Trustees. We originally planned to organise maybe five or ten Kicks a year but thanks to the help of our brilliant fundraisers, we have grown beyond our expectations.
Funds are raised in various ways. We hold quiz nights, football matches, cricket matches, sponsored walks and people even run marathons and half marathons for us, but our biggest fundraisers are our cycle rides. Over the years we have had cyclists heading off to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and along canals. They have become hugely important events to give us the funds to treat more and more disadvantaged youngsters.
How great are days like this for kids like Charlie?
We try to attend as many of the days as possible; the joy on the faces of the children or young adults when they get to meet their heroes or step out into the stadium for the first time is wonderful. Not only does it have an impact on the children but their families too, especially when they see their son or daughter doing something they never believed they would get chance to do.
What have you got planned for the future?
We are currently in the process of increasing our team of Trustees, with the aim of helping Free Kicks develop further and expand as a charity. We are delighted that Swindon Town player, Michael Doughty has come onboard as Chair of Trustees; he and his team will bring experience and contacts in many different areas which will benefit us greatly.
And after spending last season with Peterborough Michael Doughty became involved with the charity and is now, as Steve said, the Chair of Trustees.
Micahel, how did you get involved with Free Kicks?
I was at Peterborough, and it was quite serendipitous actually, and on the night I was made captain by the manager we had a young boy called Louis come into the dressing room. Louis had been involved in Free Kicks and been a beneficiary – he has down syndrome and he was actually a really incredible kid. He came into the dressing room and made everyone smile – he was very engaging and I got talking to his Dad actually, about the charity.
We walked out onto the pitch, he held my hand as we went out and a couple of months later I was doing a signing session at the club shop – Louis turned up and they brought along a framed photo of that scene. They asked me to sign it – of course I did, but then a week later I received a gift at the club shop from Louis and his Dad who had paid for a copy to be made and framed. I was really touched by that whole episode and that inspired me to speak to the founders of the charity.
Where did your involvement go from there?
I did a couple of events – we did fundraising days, a charity cricket match, and learned more about the work they were doing and just found it really incredible. They’re two people from Peterborough, who have full-time jobs but spend an extreme amount of hours in their spare time, enabling kids like Louis to have amazing days out.
How important is it for football and footballers to do stuff like this?
I am honestly super passionate about it. I think, regardless of being a footballer, we were born onto the planet and some people have a more difficult journey. As someone who is very grateful for the position I’m in, to make an impact through football or just day-to-day it’s a really important part of the job. Regardless of the level we’re playing at, there’s people that we can inspire and provide some kind of platform to enjoy and make a difference to their lives.
Free Kicks is an example how footballers and football, as a sport, can intrinsically be that platform for inspiration. The day that the kids experience is not binary, it’s profound the impact that it has, on the children involved – it’s not just the impact of the just a day, it’s the experience that means a supporter for life. It provides confidence and a number of other things. Football has such a place in the social structure and can really be a force for good.
And what would you like to see from the future of the charity?
Ideally, I’ve got ambitions to try and take the charity full time so we can raise enough money whereby Sam and Steve can leave their jobs and focus on their passion, which is this. That’s something that I find remarkable and inspiring – they’ve said to me: this is the least amount of money we need in order to do this full time. They’re really the heroes in all of this – I just want to leverage my platform to a point where they can focus all their time and energy into this and we can create a sustainable charity that provides experiences for kids like Louis and Charlie.
To find our more about the charity, head to www.freekicksfoundation.org/