In the only partnership of its kind in Ireland, the Candystripes have developed a partnership with the Escape Project - a pioneering out of school scheme that aims to improve children’s literacy, numeracy and IT skills.
Project manager John McBride says central to the ongoing success of Escape is the renewed link with Derry City.
“Week by week the project and the club are finding new ways of engaging with each other to make Escape a success.
“We have a great club to be associated with, and the young players’ performances have been inspirational - so we at Escape can relate to their achievements on the field and back here in the project.”
Based on the ‘Playing for Success’ initiative adopted by sports clubs in England, the Escape (Education, Sports, Citizenship and Parents) Project has had more than 800 young people come through its doors since it launched in 2009.
It works with schools in the Triax area of the Bogside, Brandywell, Creggan, Fountain and Bishop Street to identify children who would benefit from attending the study centre at Iona Business Park.
“When we first started Escape, Derry City were very happy to be working alongside us, and because the project was in its infancy the partnership was very organic,” John says.
“It was going well but as it turned out that year Derry City were having their own difficulties which resulted in the club skirting with going out of existence.”
He says once the well documented off the field difficulties were resolved it became apparent the club and its new board were keen to maximise the relationship with Escape.
“Thankfully the answers to all our questions came from the new board whose efforts have not only seen the club excel on the pitch but also become a key element of Escape’s success.
“What we provide is an interesting way of developing a motivation to learn and instil the confidence to take on educational challenges.
“In a way what we do is disguised learning, we use the medium of football, but more specifically Derry City, to attract young people into the project.”
Now a fully symbiotic relationship, that John and the club hope will continue to flourish, is developing.
“The squad come and attend our sessions and interact directly with the young people. They act as role models, and help the young people set and achieve their learning goals,” John says.
In return, the kids attend home games as guests of the club and get to meet the players while the club also provides signed balls and team photos.
“One of the stand out developments is that Eamon Zayed has become a fully fledged volunteer with the Escape Project. His involvement has had a really positive impact,” John says.
“The young people going to games recognise him as their leader from the project, recognise his efforts on the field, see this person putting the effort in during the game to achieve - it gives us great material in regard to achieving your own personal goals.”
Derry boss Stephen Kenny and his first team squad now also use the Escape project’s base to hold team talks and go over tactics - strengthening the link even further.
Derry City vice chairman Sean Barrett is quick to acknowledge the mutual benefits of the partnership.
“When John McBride made an approach to the new board about redeveloping the link with the club we had very little knowledge of what the project did - that knowledge lay with the previous board. But after discussions with John we very quickly realised that the work at Escape is very serious and like the club has very high ambitions.
“Initial discussions were in regard to how the club could help the project but again very quickly we found the project could also help us.
“Now Stephen Kenny and the squad come here to use the facilities to prepare for games. It provides a more comfortable and suitable environment for Stephen to prepare the team.
“In turn that gives us a greater enthusiasm to get involved in any way we can.”
John says underpinning the partnership is a desire to help young people maximise their potential.
“What we have found and what the research suggests, is that some children switch off from school because of a can’t do attitude. Part of what we do is to give young people an experience where they find that they not only can do, but they can do to a really high standard.
“We know from the feedback the young people give us, and from the schools involved, that the project is really making a difference.”
More information on the work of the Escape Project is available online at www.escapeproject.org or by telephoning 71 266 034