Giving grassroots football a boost

January 2, 2020

A new North East-based service provider aims to pump £5 million into grassroots football each year. More than 30,000 teams nationwide have already signed up to GiveToLocal and, as Simon Rushworth discovers, an ambitious management team is planning rapid growth in 2020

It remains to be seen whether Boris Johnson delivers on his bold pre-election pledge to boost grassroots football to the tune of £550 million during the next decade.

Nevertheless, it’s money that’s much needed at a time when the nation’s health and wellbeing is under increasing scrutiny and the poor standard of overused pitches is threatening to significantly diminish participation levels.

Prior to last month’s landslide parliamentary victory, the Prime Minister promised a Conservative Government would seek to ensure every family in England has access to a top-quality football pitch within a 15-minute journey, based on average travel times.

“This great country is the home of football,” he reminded voters. “Over the last year-and-

a-half, our men’s and women’s teams have done us proud as a country and our years of hurt are surely coming to an end.

“I will put my heart and soul behind the case for a UK and Ireland World Cup in 2030.

“I want this tournament to be about more than just football. I want it to transform lives with a legacy to match the 2012 Olympics.”

Mr Johnson’s proposal would quadruple the scheduled Government investment in grassroots football during the next ten years.

It follows an audit of playing facilities that found only one in three grassroots football pitches in England is currently of adequate quality – an issue that led to the cancellation of 150,000 matches across the country last season.

“Any investment is always great news for grassroots football as the costs for maintenance for clubs’ facilities increase year-on-year,” explains James Lowery, chairman at Peterlee Helford Football Club, as he brings a chilly under-10s training session to a noisy conclusion.

“However, we need to make sure the investment is used in schemes and initiatives that will bring positive results and will benefit all of our grassroots clubs.

“In my opinion, the Government should work alongside GiveToLocal. They’ve already got the ball rolling.”

Based in North Shields but with a national remit, GiveToLocal is the brainchild of Neil Gardiner, wife Bex and fellow founder Jerome Iveson.

The ambitious trio have surrounded themselves with experts in the field of grassroots football and oversee a growing team dedicated to streamlining the finances of local clubs via a groundbreaking application.

Neil takes up the story.

“I don’t mind admitting that I used to be in a job that had no real positive social impact,” he explains.

“I wasn’t happy in my previous career. On the one hand, I was neglecting family and friends and on the other I was stressing like mad to deliver the highest possible profits.

“I can put as much effort in now and actually do something that helps people, as opposed to doing something that is all about the short-term and is purely financially driven.

“That’s what GiveToLocal has given me. What it can give to the grassroots football community is so much more.”

In a nutshell, GiveToLocal is an invaluable conduit between grassroots football clubs and their local community.

Clubs register with the service and gain access to a user-friendly application. Through that application they can raise funds from individual donors and sponsors and look forward to a guaranteed monthly income and greater financial security.

Donors are incentivised to contribute with the promise of discounts and offers specific to their local community.

It’s a service that’s already attracted attention at the highest level; big name supporters include Newcastle United’s Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett, and former Magpies’ favourites Ayoze Perez, Tim Krul and Georginio Wijnaldum.

And GiveToLocal can count on the support of several regional Football Associations, which have given their pledge to support clubs that already meet the FA Charter Standard.

“We were made aware of GiveToLocal through their director of strategic partnerships Colin Stromsoy,” explains Andrew Cook, football operations manager at the Northumberland FA.

“We worked closely with Colin for a number of years during his time as director of sport at Northumbria University and I was keen to hear what he had to say.

“My first impression of the service was that there must be a catch for either the clubs or the individuals supporting clubs. However, following a series of meetings it became abundantly clear that the product was there to provide sustainability to grassroots clubs – exactly what had been sold to me during my initial conversations with Colin.

“We are in the fortunate position that we are approached by businesses and service providers on an almost daily basis looking to work with us and, more importantly, with our clubs and members.

“However, we have a duty to our members to ensure that we don’t simply endorse a product without completing a credible amount of due diligence. Furthermore, the product has to provide added value to the services already on offer from Northumberland FA.

“GiveToLocal fits this description perfectly.”

As a bitterly cold North East wind gathers pace at Peterlee Helford, James is collecting in the cones and ensuring his under-10s are ready for pick-up.

As the final few are safely dispatched to beaming mums and dads, he adds: “This club, like so many up and down the country, relies so heavily on the kind generosity of our parents, along with the support of a few local businesses, to keep the respective teams from folding.

“Each year the cost of pitches, equipment and strips seems to increase.

“It’s increasingly difficult to budget and plan for the long-term.

“GiveToLocal gives our club and the teams within that club an opportunity to build for the future, knowing that secure and regular funding is in place.”

And when it comes to secure funding, GiveToLocal are working with the very best.

Last month, the North Tyneside team travelled en masse to London to co-host a business-focused launch and networking event at the headquarters of internationally renowned recurring payments platform GoCardless.

Investors, footballers and national media joined GiveToLocal management to discuss an exciting vision for the future around the grassroots game.

“We needed to be certain that those people signing up to our service were able to do so with confidence,” explains Neil.

“It was important that we partnered with a trusted and forward-thinking recurring payments platform and GoCardless ticked all of the boxes.”

GoCardless processes $10 billion in transactions a year and counts 50,000 businesses around the world as customers – from start-ups to household names including TripAdvisor and The Guardian.

Last February, investors including GV (formerly Google Ventures) provided $75 million worth
of funding to further strengthen GoCardless’ position as a market leader.

A broad remit includes seeking out socially diverse partnerships with a strong community focus.

“From day one, GoCardless have been very excited at the prospect of supporting GiveToLocal’s mission to deliver predictable funding to grassroots sports,” says Steve Reidy, UK general manager.

“There is a perfect synergy between GiveToLocal’s business model and GoCardless’ capabilities and I am very passionate about where this partnership will go.”

At Peterlee Helford, there is already a buzz around a service which club officials have been seeking for years.

“I came into football as a Level 1 FA coach to help coach young children get into this great game,” adds James.

“A lot of my time, these days, is spent finding funds for our week-to-week outlays.

“To take away the element of coaches doubling up as fundraisers and finance experts has to be good news.

“Our goals are simply to deliver fun football sessions and develop our teams.

“The GiveToLocal app gives us the opportunity to focus on what we do best and take the worry out of collecting payments and investing in the club’s future.”

Financial sustainability has been the albatross around the necks of grassroots football clubs for decades, but a game rooted in tradition is finally in a position to embrace new technology and a new approach.

“I believed, and still believe, that GiveToLocal will work because of the simplicity of the product and the ease in which it can be utilised,” adds Andrew.

“The overall premise of the product is clear, and this clarity means it can be easily explained and attract contributors from across the community.

“Our FA Charter Standard clubs should be able to utilise the service for their benefit, by demonstrating how they exist at the heart of the community.

“GiveToLocal can be a valuable aid in terms of helping those clubs to achieve financial sustainability.”

Neil, a proud Northern Irishman who aligned himself to Newcastle United at an early age, is passionate about a service that, in his view, can revolutionise how communities come together on the pursuit of supporting sport for all.

“It really is win-win,” insists the Cullercoats- based Ulsterman. “Imagine you decided to donate £3 per month to Whitley Bay Football club. That would unlock a number of discounts in the North Tyneside area available exclusively to GiveToLocal donors.

“That’s the incentive but we also want to raise awareness around the graft that goes into keeping grassroots football going.

“One of the big things from our perspective is that most people don’t appreciate the time involved or the overheads associated with running a local club. Trying to convince people what GiveToLocal was meant to be conceptually, in the beginning, was difficult.

“However, I always had a vision and I’ve always been working towards a single goal.

“I firmly believe that if you take our message and tell the story through volunteers then it will resonate with donors and sponsors alike.

“We urge people to look at how much time one volunteer might give to his or her club every week and consider how much of a difference some additional financial support could make.”

At Peterlee Helford, Neil is preaching to the converted.

“We were founded in 1991 by Andrew Reid, who became our club president,” adds James.

“His drive and passion for grassroots football is second-to-none and he is exactly the kind of person Neil and GiveToLocal are talking about.

“We have ten junior teams from under-7 to under-16. One of those teams is our all-girls under-15 side and increasing female participation is part of our future development plan.

“In addition, we have an adult under-23 team and a walking football team under our wing.

“I’d say we have more than 300 people involved with Peterlee Helford, from players to coaches and
family to friends.

“Volunteering is key. GiveToLocal recognises the value of volunteers and understands how a service tailored to their needs can make such a difference.”

For Neil, grassroots football is the very lifeblood of the national game and he believes those seeking to support GiveToLocal need look no further than the fairytale rise of Newcastle United’s Longstaff brothers for evidence of its enduring value.

“It’s a fantastic story for anyone seeking to validate the power of grassroots football,” he insists.

“Sean and Matty might be playing at the highest level now, but it wasn’t too long ago that they were like thousands of other kids across the country playing for their local team and encouraged by volunteer coaches who make a significant difference at the heart of the community.

“Those are the people we are seeking to support.

“We’ve created a model that can help grassroots football clubs raise vital income and, at the same time, incentivise donors and sponsors to support the Longstaffs of the future and those who shape their careers.”

To discuss sponsorship opportunities, contact Neil Gardiner at

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