Lily and Emilia are the Project Leaders for the Girls Can Kick SLP, part of the UCL Women's Football Club. Lily is in her third year of Education Studies and Emilia is also in her third year studying English. They are both very passionate about women’s football and have done an amazing job inspiring young girls to keep playing and make the most of the game!
Can you tell us a little bit about your project?
Lily: the project is called Girls Can Kick, and it’s run in partnership with the UCL Women's Football Club, as we are both the volunteering secretaries for this club.
We felt inspired to start this project because we wanted to reach out to the local community and establish links with some girls’ teams so we could partner with the schools, play football with the girls, and just encourage them to keep playing football.
We think it's really positive to have older female role models and we just wanted to remind them that you can keep playing and having a good time even if you don’t go pro, that there's a nice middle ground as an option.Lily
Emilia: Yes, a lot of girls tend to quit, I think normally when they're entering secondary school, which is also why we wanted to target younger girls, to give them an example, like Lily said, that you can keep playing.
Lovely! And how does it work? Can you tell us more about the practicalities of the project?
Emilia: we go once per week on Tuesdays for about 2 hours. Initially we got about 20 students from the UCL Woman's Club that wanted to volunteer. But the groups of girls tend to be quite small, so we usually have between two and four volunteers who go to help out.
Lily: we went through the London FA squad and Wildcat programmes, which align with the ages we wanted to work with and have the same mission of introducing girls to football, not being super competitive but focus instead on team bonding, building your football skills, being outside and being active. So yes, we work with them, and we're currently only partnered with the Camden and Islington United Wildcat Sessions, this means that we have more students wanting to volunteer than options to volunteer, so hopefully next year we will partner with more teams like the Camden youth teams.
Since we started the project in the second half of this year, by the time we finally got all our forms in order, like risk assessment and partnership agreements, it was already end of term 2, and then with exams, we figured it probably wasn't the ideal time to start really expanding our programme. So we're really hoping to expand next year.
Can you tell us more about your Project Leader roles?
Emilia: Just being project leader has entailed a lot of logistical and administrative parts of organizing and getting it running. But beyond that, I think we bring the motivation and encouragement for people to sign up, we message weekly to see who is available, and we try to give feedback as well on how the sessions go.
I think for us it was important not just to provide an opportunity for the other people in our club to volunteer, but to really explain the motivation behind it.Emilia
The aim was something that a lot of the girls could relate to, given that some of them have been playing since that age.
Lily: Yes, and we also coordinate between the coach, the girls’ teams, and also our volunteers. We have to make sure that the coach is happy with our volunteers and our role there, and then also that our volunteers are finding the experience enjoyable and that they're not having any problems. So a big part of our role is communication, being the liaison between all parties involved, making sure everything's going well, and adjust things when needed.
Why did you want to become Project Leaders?
Emilia: It’s kind of inherent in our role to provide volunteering opportunities for our club. But I think something that was really important for us was to create a long-standing partnership for the Club. Because we won't necessarily be at UCL around the committee next year, we wanted to establish something for the next volunteering secretary on the team to carry forward. Even though we also provided one-off experiences,, we thought the impact would be more tangible and long lasting if we established something ongoing.
What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?
Lily: One difference is that it’s important for UCL to establish more connections within the Bloomsbury and Camden community, and so I think that, although it's a small impact, it’s always good for young girls to meet people from the university, which inspires them to continue playing football, but also academically as well, just to consider UCL as an option for them.
Emilia: Also, socially we act as intermediaries, we make sure that we get to know the girls, so now that we've done a few sessions we've established a rapport with them, and at least from what I've noticed, they engage with each other a lot more. The coach’s main responsibility is to teach them how to play, so he can't necessarily focus as much on building relationships, so I guess one of our impacts is this, facilitating the more social part of the sport.
What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?
Emilia: I think it's great for the volunteers’ mental health. I mean it's really nice to spend time outside, especially now during exam season
s when our work is more conducive to being inside in the library. We’re both going into education related fields, so it's quite nice to gain experience related to that, even if it's in a peripheral sense.
Lily: It also makes me reflect on my own experiences growing up as a girl playing football. Maybe I didn't consciously think about how it shaped who I am, but having these experiences now, being older and going to play with young girls, it's really interesting to remember what it was like and what I wanted when I was their age, even if I didn't necessarily know it.
How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?
Lily: The coach, [as] the head of Community Outreach for Camden and Islington United, he's offered to put us in touch with some other teams for the upcoming year. And then also when we were searching to make partnerships, we met with one of the heads of Team UCL and she put us in contact with the head of the girls’ teams for London FA, and through her we've reached out and talked with a couple of other teams, like the Queen Park Rangers and Bloomsbury Football. So lots of different football clubs and then also some new contacts within team UCL to talk about what more our Club could do through volunteering and with the London community.
Emilia: Yeah, I think it's been really fulfilling to see how responsive these different clubs and people have been towards our initiative. Even if they weren't in a place to receive volunteers, they were always happy to redirect us in a different direction or see if they could offer an opportunity in a different way. It was really rewarding to see that people care about women's football and developing it further.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered?
Lily: I guess one challenge would be when we first went, obviously the sessions had already been established, so it was challenging to find the balance of exactly how we were going to participate. For example, if we were playing alongside the girls or serving more like a coaching role. So we had to discuss with our volunteers and with the coach what would work best and find that middle ground.
And how did you overcome this challenge or what strategies did you use to make it easier?
Emilia: Something that helped me a lot was being able to trust Lily, we were friends and teammates before this year, so I think having a foundation helped in terms of communication and stepping in for each other when one person needed it.
In that sense it's sort of like a full circle, because we became friends through football, and now we get to see all these young girls forming their own friendships. So I think it just goes to show how unifying the sport is.
Lily: Yes, you learn a lot both on and off the field, so it's nice to bring both of those elements back to younger girls, to remind them that it's not just about playing football, but it's about working with your teammates and establishing friendships.
Emilia: Yes, I guess we believe in the values that we're trying to show them because we've seen how it's worked for us.
Can you tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?
Emilia: I think the most touching moments are when you see the girls feeling increasingly comfortable with you, and they'll start to share more about their days or what they've done at school.
Lily: Yes, so now they come up to us to talk, and if one of the volunteers is not there, they'll ask where they are.
That’s lovely, so it’s not just one memorable moment but a feeling of relationships building up. And one last question! What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?
Lily: Start early. As soon as you have the idea, get going as fast as you can. Even if you think you don't have all the pieces in place, it's still good to just start, for example, registering your interest, attending those initial meetings, starting on your risk assessment, because you can't even really reach out to people until you have your risk assessment done.
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