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By Justin Merritt, Director - Ignite Sport UK.
It is one year since the first UK lockdown started, which provides a timely moment to reflect.
Firstly, our thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones or been adversely impacted by the pandemic. We are also thankful for our tremendous NHS heroes and all key workers who we are all indebted too.
It has been an incredibly tough year across the world. But it is important as we reflect that we focus on gratitude.
At Ignite Sport UK despite the challenges we have faced we are grateful we have been able to keep operating, for the support of our wonderful colleagues and customers, our health, and that we can look ahead with optimism.
Undoubtedly there has been a cost for us during the pandemic, like for most organisations, but despite that the amount of positives are uplifting. Positives that were achieved together, as a team and a community.
We have adapted and put in place robust measures to protect colleagues, customers, students, and delivery partners throughout. It has enabled us to continue to provide our core services wherever possible.
The journey has made us appreciate how important our services are to people. Training and teaching people to fulfil their career ambitions, providing education support and qualifications, and coaching both professionally and in our community. Helping people keep fit and active, to fulfil personal goals and have a sense of purpose. All at a time when mental and physical health has been at the forefront of the nation’s psyche.
We have maintained ourapprenticeship programmes nationally in primary schools and delivered the required level of education. We have delivered programmes in schools when restrictions allowed, and supported keyworker families during lockdowns. Our school delivery has taken us from Banbury to Uffington and everywhere in between. We have upscaled our adult education portfolio after adding to our awarding body partners with Transcend Awards and Training Qualifications UK. The response to our adapted online delivery offering has been fantastic.
The commitment from our PE and Coaching colleagues has been superb. They have worked tirelessly for the entire year ensuring our junior and youth footballers and children and families In Oxfordshire and beyond (including our Ignite friends in Japan) were engaged in activity via online PE hubs and live stream sessions. The energy and variation displayed to ensure maximum participation was a real testament to our passion for delivering sport and positive impact.
In October we were awarded the Apprentice Employer of the Year at the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards, which we are extremely proud of. It is testament to the hard work and dedication of the team and the award belongs to all our colleagues.
Our Velocity Football education programme has been a big highlight of the year. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, it has gone from strength to strength. It was revamped in the summer of 2020 and officially launched in September with a new intake of students studying BTEC programmes.
The students have all developed and have a bright future ahead of them. The programmes have continued throughout lockdowns and when restrictions demanded lessons were delivered digitally.
Technology has been a big part, of not just helping us adapt to the pandemic, but also to developing students. We have introduced various tech innovations into what we do which are designed to improve communication, education, development, fitness, and technical analysis.
We have also hosted multiple open evenings via Zoom to attract new students and apprentices and invested in a showcase videos to help communicate what we do.
The response to the pandemic from our students has been first class. Everyone has stuck to the guidelines and remained focused on their development. They have also raised more than £2,000 for charities including Sport in Mind and our own community donation project via Red January and marathon running.
We are grateful to everyone who supported our community donation project which enabled us to provide food, essential household items and sporting equipment to families in need during the current lockdown. The backing we received from the community was overwhelming and enabled us to deliver way more support than we thought possible in partnership with local schools.
We have welcomed fantastic new colleagues during the pandemic, including Aliyah Anthony, Sam Biswell, Lauren Haynes, James Thorpe, and most recently, Mark Haining and are currently recruiting for new sports coaches to enhance our team further.
The progress Oxford City FC has made has been particularly pleasing. We have a great manger and squad and have worked hard to improve the infrastructure to league standards. The support we have received from supporters and the growing business community has been superb and is something we will not forget.
Some of the challenges have been extremely difficult. We have managed the financial and operational challenges, but still faced major and unexpected difficulties. Oxford City FC’s season was ended abruptly at a time when we were pushing for promotion, which was very disappointing.
But nothing has compared to the loss of our colleague, Mickey Lewis, which rocked everyone. We miss Mickey daily. But we are using his positive outlook and spirit to make sure everything we do to develop our footballers is a legacy to Mickey.
A short while ahead of the pandemic hitting, we had added to our group of companies with a well-established and exciting fitness and wellness event – Fitfest Oxford. The 2020 event was postponed to what is promised to be an inspiring and much needed safe, outdoor festival back for 2021 showcasing local and national fitness and wellness brands.
We are looking forward to the return to sport fully and continuing to grow our team and delivery with a big focus on education training programmes. The pandemic has galvanised us across the board: Ignite Sport UK, Velocity Football, Oxford City FC, and our junior and youth academy.
Everyone is now looking forward with renewed focus and determination to continue to navigate the pandemic and deliver more success in our communities. We will do so with continued positivity, humility, and gratitude.
On behalf of the team a big thank you to everyone. Stay safe.