Beautiful game helps disaffected

Disaffected schoolchildren in Wrexham are not only being given lessons on the dangers of drugs but also the dangers of a poor diet.

It is part of a programme of tutorials and activities run by community workers at Wrexham football club, which target young offenders and children considered to be at risk of offending.

The Football Cares initiative has been run by the club for the past three years, but it has just secured a pound;200,000 funding package from the Football Foundation and the Police and Community Trust (PACT).

Groups of 11 to 16-year-olds, who have often been excluded from mainstream schools, spend a weekly session at the club where they take part in sporting activities, workshops and literacy and numeracy lessons.

A school health adviser and some of the Wrexham players also talk to the children about dietary issues and eating disorders. The number of obese children in the UK has tripled in the past 20 years and some 17 per cent of 15-year-olds are now classified as obese.

Mark Morris, football in the community development officer at the club, said: "At the moment we're simply focusing on healthy eating and leading a healthier lifestyle. We've not discussed the link between diet and behaviour."

Mr Morris, who works closely with Wrexham's youth offending team and police officers, described the club's programme as a "good carrot", which is used to encourage the children academically.

He said: "We had 20 or 30 pupils who came back every week last year and they wouldn't have been able to if they hadn't completed their school work."

Mark Salisbury, deputy head at the Ymlaen pupil-referral unit in Gwersyllt, sends around 15 pupils a week for sessions with the club.

He said: "It's had a significant impact. English and maths lessons are generally formal but at the football club they focus on bringing the subjects into real life, so maths might be based around goals scored or gate receipts."

Chris Jenkins, a 13-year-old who spends three days a week with the club, said: "It's good because we have a laugh and do a bit of work. I used to get into a bit of trouble, but I don't anymore."

Alistair Bennett of the Football Foundation, a sports charity funded by the Football Association, the Premier League and the Westminster government, said the project tackled youth crime and disorder by supporting those who usually find themselves excluded from community activities.

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