The ‘secret’ side of Portman Road

We’re in the era of the Big Society, which is looking to charities to keep the wheels turning. Steven Russell finds out how things stand for Ipswich Town Charitable Trust

TERRY Baxter glances through his office window, into the twilight, as a minibus pulls into Ipswich Town’s Portman Road ground.

A group of excited primary school children gets off, folders in hand. The youngsters have been picked up at their school, brought to a “learning zone” classroom in the shadow of the stadium – one full of computers and books – and will soon be enjoying a fun activity that hones English, maths and IT skills . . . without feeling like a chore or extra homework.

“It’s a confidence-builder, too,” says Terry about the Department for Education-funded initiative Playing for Success – just one example of the work done by the ITFC Charitable Trust.

“It works with people who, with a bit of intensive motivational support over a 12-week period, can progress up to 15 months in their academic achievement.

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“They’re working in an environment that’s hugely motivational: full of Ipswich Town imagery. Occasionally a player might wander in to see how they’re getting on. At the end, they’re taken home again by minibus.

“We’re doing that all of the time, most days, and I don’t think many people realise that.”

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In fact, three minibus drivers are given a name-check on the ITFC Charitable Trust website – which demonstrates the depth of organisation involved.

But . . .

“If you hadn’t looked at the website, and you weren’t really particularly interested in delving into our work, you’d have no idea, would you?” smiles Terry, ruefully. “We’re doing that work quietly – too quietly.”

There’s the rub. More than 60,000 people took part in the trust’s activities over the past year, but stop a stranger in the street at random and he probably couldn’t tell you accurately what the charity is all about.

The wide range of its activities perhaps makes it difficult for the public to grasp the extent of the trust’s work.

Then there’s the connection with the football club. The charity benefits from the Blues’ strong branding – and the frisson of excitement it creates – but that association also muddies the water. Many folk doubtless think the trust is a feather-bedded department of the club, rather than a stand-alone charity that has to find the vast bulk of its money itself.

Ah, money.

Some people believe that, because the trust is under the umbrella of the soccer club, fees from its children’s holiday coaching courses subsidise the wages of those well-paid players on the pitch. Not so.

The football club link is of course greatly beneficial, says Terry – chief executive officer of the trust for nearly four years now – but he recognises it can prove a double-edged sword.

“It’s constantly an issue to try to overcome, in as much as the football club backs us both in terms of its brand and through physical efforts – players coming to support us and other members of staff helping to deliver our aims.

“It also helps us financially. We get under 5 per cent of our funding from the club, which is not an insignificant amount of money. It’s about �50-60,000.”

The club also allows use of the practice pitch at Portman Road, and gives space for the classroom building. And Terry splits his time between trust duties and his ITFC role as director of communications. Otherwise, the club remains at arm’s length and has no involvement in day-to-day operations.

“In terms of where the blessing can sometimes become a curse . . . exactly what you said: people will say ‘Well, you’re a department of the football club, aren’t you? You’re owned by a multi-millionaire; therefore you don’t need any money.’” And that’s not true.

To help establish a clearer identity, the trust changed its name in the autumn, replacing Ipswich Town Community Trust with its current title.

“Frankly, if you say it’s the ITFC Charitable Trust, there’s not a lot of room for misunderstanding,” says Terry. He acknowledges, however, that it will still take a while to knock misconceptions on the head.

“I think it will come only after years of constantly hammering this message home. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s got to be a constant push, push, push – that this is a charity in its own right, relying on its own efforts to bring in funding to make a difference to the lives of people in Suffolk.

“It all sounds off-pat promotional-speak, but it’s true. We are making an incredible change in people’s lives.”

The organisation was born in the mid-1990s as a football-in-the-community scheme, the baby of former Town chairman David Sheepshanks.

In a nutshell, the trust’s aim is to offer chances for people to enjoy a wide range of sporting activities – mainly football – and encourage a healthy and active lifestyle. It also uses the theme of sport to raise achievement and inspire learners – hence the children who have just arrived across the way.

So what does that mean in practice?

Terry talks about one of the schemes that helps people with disabilities, such as physical or mental health issues, to get involved in sport.

“The programme allows individuals to take part – and that’s really important. For an able-bodied person, if you want to play football, you can join a local club or go down to the park with your friends, or you can go along to coaching courses and see how far you can progress.

“In the past, if you had a disability, it was much more difficult to do that. So a couple of years ago we set up the Ability Counts programme. Our aim is to offer those same opportunities to anyone in Suffolk, irrespective of their ability.”

To kick off . . .

The ITFC Charitable Trust ‘turns over’ about �1.25m a year

Nearly two thirds come from its football-related activities (such as holiday soccer courses – 1,156 children signed up for last summer’s 49 courses – and birthday parties), sponsorship, and from Ipswich Town Football Club

Something over a third comes from local and central public authorities for educational activities

The charity has about has 20 full-time staff

It also has its own board of trustees

Part-time staff are also brought in to run activities

In a nutshell, the trust runs:

An Activ8it programme that helps children aged from seven to 16 live healthier lives

Soccer courses and camps for youngsters

Educational schemes – often using football themes, and sometimes parts of the Ipswich Town ground

The Team Programme personal development course for 16- to 25-year-olds

Web link:

Extra time . . .

More than 60,000 people took part in trust activities last year

Nearly 40 young people completed the Team Programme in 2009

Seven of Ipswich Town’s first-team players popped along to last summer’s football-skills courses, including skipper Gareth McAuley, Jaime Peters and Carlos Edwards

The trust has run the Ipswich women’s football team for two seasons

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