Community the key for Leyton Orient
PUBLISHED: 12:30 27 December 2013
Leyton Orient are flying high in League One but they're also enjoying success off the pitch.
The club’s community sports arm (LOCSP) celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.
It was the first football club to have a charitable arm and concentrates its work in some of the most deprived boroughs in London – Newham, Tower Hamlets, Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge, Hackney and Waltham Forest.
Neil Taylor, the organisation’s chief executive for 15 years, says using football as a starting point can help to ease deprivation in the area.
He thinks it is proving a useful tool in setting youngsters in the boroughs on the right path before they take wrong turns.
“These are highly deprived areas with long-term structural damage and high rates of unemployment,” said Taylor.
“The Leyton Orient name gives us kudos. It reaches people we wouldn’t be able to if we were just a normal sports charity. What we do always starts with sport in some form, and we look for the social benefit, be it employment, training or volunteering opportunities.”
First team defender Elliott Omozusi is a key cog in the system and is being nominated as Orient’s PFA Community Player of the Year.
He returned to the club in January after his release from prison following a conviction for intimidating a witness in a murder trial. Omozusi admits the decision to take him on again wasn’t universally popular, but thinks there is a definite benefit to getting his message out there.
The 25-year-old said: “I count myself very lucky and I’m grateful the club took me back.
“It’s easy to take the wrong path, but not everyone gets a second chance.
“When I talk to the kids they really seem to be inspired and can relate to some of my experiences. It’s very uplifting.”
Community liaison officer Howard Gould praised the impact of Omozusi, adding: “He’s been unbelievable on the playing and community side. He’s evolved into a better person.
“He tells the kids the need to stay on the right track and learn their lessons. A few of them have come away saying they need to focus, to work hard and be judgemental about who their friends are.
“That shows it has made a difference and at least some of them have taken it in, which is great.”
It’s a point reiterated by Taylor, who is hopeful that the charity can continue to grow from their base at the Score Centre, which opened in 2005 across the road from Orient’s Brisbane Road ground.
But he’s aware that things “won’t change overnight.”
“A lot of the issues are generational,” added Taylor. “They become cyclical and that’s what we’re trying to break.
“People need paid employment and meaningful work and football is a good starting point. It’s about aspiration.”
LOCSP was the first football club charity to turnover £2million. It has invested more than £30million in local communities and comes into contact with more than 100,000 people.
Gould is the main link between LOCSP and the club and said: “Football is the national sport and most kids want to play it, which is why it works.
“We invite the players in to referee matches, present medals and have their picture taken. It’s great for the kids to be so near to their heroes.”
Taylor added: “We look to get under the skin of the youngsters and develop them as individuals.
“We know we’re not the biggest organisation but we punch above our weight. The emphasis is on quality. We want people to come back to us again and again so we can help them in any way we can.”