Surrey FA unite communities and asylum seekers through football

Surrey Football Association's Unite Through Football: Refugees project was re-launched for a second successive season on Monday (November 20). 
Surrey FA Unite Through Football League Launch, Event - at Meadowbank Stadium, Dorking - 20/11/23 - Picture: Simon RoeSurrey FA Unite Through Football League Launch, Event - at Meadowbank Stadium, Dorking - 20/11/23 - Picture: Simon Roe
Surrey FA Unite Through Football League Launch, Event - at Meadowbank Stadium, Dorking - 20/11/23 - Picture: Simon Roe

The UK houses thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in temporary accommodation across the country, with many located in the South East of England.

In September 2022, Surrey FA launched Unite Through Football: Refugees, in collaboration with leading accommodation provider SBHL and Surrey Police to support those living in these circumstances. The ground-breaking programme provided a much-needed opportunity for young men and women across the South East to play football and connect with local communities while positively supporting their mental health and wellbeing. After a successful first year, Surrey FA's Unite Through Football: Refugees enters its second season as part of an expanded partnership with SBHL, and a nomination for The FA's County Recognition Awards within the 'Equality, Diversity & Inclusion' category.   The league format of the project provides football opportunities, kit, boots and prayer facilities for over 200 players, and has allowed the opportunity for community football foundations, local organisations and clubs working with refugee groups, to widen the football offer for displaced people across the South East, as they prepare for life outside hotels. Last year alone, hundreds of men and women from over 35 different countries took part in the project and the second season has ambitions to grow and expand the project to impact more individuals through additional playing and education opportunities and building links through the football network to connect participants into local communities. The recent launch event welcomed over 100 guests to Meadowbank Football Ground, home of Surrey FA, to support the project and its continued stability.

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Speaking on the day, Surrey FA Chief Executive Officer, Sally Lockyer, said: "We have seen a growing population of refugees within the South East, and we want to create opportunities for them to play football, boost their mental health, and connect with the local community. Following a successful first season, we're delighted that with the sponsorship support of SBHL, we can continue to create opportunities for our refugee community to participate in sporting activities. Not only does it help them to build positive relationships within their local community, but it also provides structure, support and social opportunities, which are hugely important for people who have been displaced, often in very traumatic circumstances."

Owais Khan, Head of Welfare Services at SBHL, was also in attendance and added: "SBHL is delighted to be supporting this incredible project. All our people at SBHL have a passion for providing the best service possible and going beyond where we can. I would like to thank the Surrey FA for all they have done in delivering this ambitious project, and we look forward to seeing the results of these efforts in 2024 and beyond." 

The project, which was initially developed through FA and Sport England funding has continued to be recognised on a national level. Diversity and Inclusion Manager at The FA, and former professional player for West Ham United FC, Anwar Uddin MBE was present and commented: "It is wonderful to witness the sustained success of the project, enabling it to offer football opportunities to the Refugee Community for a second consecutive season. These sessions play a crucial role in fostering integration between the participants and the wider community, whilst providing activities that positively impact their mental and physical wellbeing.