“Every day’s a school day,” says Steven Sweeney. “I always joke with my auntie that this is my favourite saying. You’re always learning.”
However, Steven, 31, has come a long way since his school days as a PE teacher in Paisley.
As an instrumental figure in the growth of Aberdeen Football Club’s partner charity, Aberdeen FC Community Trust, he’s been given the recognition of his peers with a nomination in the Scottish Charity Awards, run by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Winners will be announced in the evening of Thursday, June 9, and we’re planning a full report online on Friday.
He became involved with the club when he moved from running community projects with St Mirren FC to work for Aberdeen FC in 2013. He and chief executive Ally Prockter decided to do things differently and set up a partner charity to the club.
Gaining charitable status in 2014, it launched as the trust in July of that year and since then Steven has been involved in leading the growth of the charity as a community asset, trebling the total number of people taking part.
The key, he says, was to get the club more involved in the local community, showing it was more than just about football.
He said: “Sometimes we’ve got to challenge that perception because we’re attached to the football club.
“This is where we can put the football away, it’s not just about the football, it’s about using the resources the club has, the people, the players as role models.
“Sometimes football doesn’t get the most positive of press, but this is a really good example of a partner charity that does fantastic work, we’re more than the 90 minutes of a game of football.
“There’s so much more to it, and I’m really pleased that the work we’ve driven forward can demonstrate that.
“There’s such a range of different clients that you maybe wouldn’t naturally associate with a football charity – we’ve really tried to present ourselves as an asset to the community and show our willingness to help everybody and anybody that we can.”
Since its beginnings, the trust has carried out a number of “person-centred” initiatives across the community in Aberdeen, engaging with a number of groups including young children from the age of three, to people living with disabilities, ethnic or religious minority groups, those with mental health issues and the elderly.
The activities and initiatives address issues such as dementia, inactivity, obesity, social exclusion and social deprivation. For example, the Football Memories scheme involves the trust, Aberdeen RC and Alzheimer’s Scotland to hold reminisce workshops to stimulate conversations in those suffering from the condition. There are also breakfast clubs as well as drugs awareness and physical health schemes.
It was Ally Prockter who nominated him for the award of “exceptional employee” in the Scottish Charity Awards in recognition of his work with the trust, overseeing its growth.
To Steven, it is a “humbling” experience. “I quite like pushing other people into the limelight, I always like to stay in the background,” he said.
“I’m really honoured and I think it’s fantastic that a football club’s partner charity gets this kind of recognition on a national stage. I’d always say I’m flying the flag for football.”
The trust is continuing to expand. As well as hiring new staff (there are already four times as many aas when the charity first began) it is broadening its scope to other localities in Aberdeenshire, particularly rural areas, as well as branching into more education initiatives.
Steven, who is getting married this October, said: “Our vision is very broad, it’s about providing support and opportunities to change lives for the better. It’s deliberately that way so we can help as many different people as possible in the North-east.”
“It’s been really hard work, but it’s been rewarding to see the impact you can have on people.
“It’s great seeing the impact that we’re having. People speak so positively about their experiences with us, hopefully that will continue and there will be plenty more of that to come.”
“If you’d asked me when I first moved to Aberdeen where I would see ourselves now, I think we’re way ahead of where we envisaged we’d go. I don’t think I could ever have imagined where we are now.”
For more information about the trust, go here: http://www.afccommunitytrust.org/home.php