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Arsenal in the Community mark 30th anniversary with move to new sports centre at Emirates Stadium

16:30 26 February 2015

Arsenal in the Community head Alan Sefton at the new sports centre on Queensland Road

Arsenal in the Community head Alan Sefton at the new sports centre on Queensland Road

Dieter Perry

As Arsenal in the Community celebrate their 30th anniversary this week, it could certainly be said that the scheme has come full circle.

When the Gunners’ community initiative first launched with a skeleton staff in 1985, it was based at the JVC Centre which was part of the club’s Highbury home.

Now, with a team of more than 20 full-time coaches overseeing more than 350 sessions on a weekly basis, Arsenal in the Community have finally moved into a permanent headquarters again.

The Community team, which has been headed by Alan Sefton for most of those 30 years, are currently settling into offices at the new sports centre on Queensland Road, adjoining Emirates Stadium.

Sefton, who will receive an MBE for his long service to the scheme next week at Buckingham Palace, said: “The JVC Centre was the focal point when we started. Any outreach work we did was additional.

“When we lost that, you could say the outreach work became the focus, so we had to go out more to schools, pitches and community facilities.

“Now the new centre will be a community hub and will act as additional to the massive outreach work we do. It will glamorise and ‘Arsenalise’ the very extensive programme that we’ve got.”

The new centre, which revolves around a 50m x 18m 4G astroturf indoor football pitch, also includes a café area, classrooms and a computer section known as the ‘Red Zone’ – an updated version of the facility that existed at the JVC Centre.

However, the range and scope of Arsenal in the Community programmes has increased since its formative years, with a greater variety of different participation groups now involved.

“We started off with a lot of children’s soccer schools and because of the nature of the centre, one of the other activities we had was senior citizens’ bowls,” Sefton recalled. “Eventually we used it as a full-sized rink.

“Also, we ran a very good hockey programme, which is still going, and a tennis programme. We always did primary schools’ football, which is now something government has focused on as well.

“We have a very big football programme for people with mental health issues twice a week at Market Road. It’s not just the physical activity that’s extremely important, it’s the camaraderie of people who are often very isolated getting together.

“Our programme for people with disabilities has expanded, as has our football programme for women and girls. We started off the Arsenal Ladies programme, which Vic Akers eventually took on, and they continue to do a lot of grassroots work.”

When it officially opens in the near future, the new centre will also be the final piece in the jigsaw of the regeneration project begun when Arsenal moved to the Emirates in 2006.

But Sefton is keen to stress that the club’s ongoing commitment to their work in the Islington area was always about more than smoothing a path for the relocation of the stadium.

“If you want planning permission, you have to be a good local citizen – but planning this stadium was not conceived of 30 years ago, when the programme started,” he pointed out.

“Ken Friar, the managing director at the time, was a very strong supporter of it – as he still is today. At Arsenal, we would like to think we’ve been part of the community ever since we moved to Islington in 1913.

“There are well-documented stories about the club raising money for local hospitals and that sort of thing. Players came to matches on public transport and mingled.

“We regard it as very important that we stay at the forefront of the community.

“I hope local people and the local council see the club as very important to the area as well. That is what most of our work is about.

“We are a huge name abroad and we do work abroad as well, but we are committed to putting on 51 hours of sessions for local people each week and we hope the new centre will spice up the programmes we’re doing.”

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