‘So much more to come’: Blackpool FC Community Trust not resting on their laurels after recent award

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“This isn’t a case of patting ourselves on our backs or resting on our laurels, this is us being excited by the opportunity to do even more”.

 

Those are the sage words of Ash Hackett, chief executive of Blackpool Football Club’s Community Trust.

Ash and his team of 92 staff were recently recognised for their sterling work with a trophy at the North West Football Awards, which were held in Manchester in November.

The Trust weren’t the only victors, with first-team boss Neil Critchley also taking to the stage to collect the manager of the year award, a trophy he won ahead of Man City boss Pep Guardiola among others.

Critchley took the opportunity to play down his own award, pointing out the community trophy means a whole lot more given the vital role the Trust plays within the local area.

Having spearheaded the Trust through the choppy waters under the Oyston ownership, the award will have come as a hugely proud moment for Hackett.

But speaking to The Gazette, he opted to focus on what lies ahead.

Simon Sadler opened the Community Trust's £400,000 Education and Community Centre at Bloomfield Road in 2019

Simon Sadler opened the Community Trust’s £400,000 Education and Community Centre at Bloomfield Road in 2019

“We’ve never actually applied previously as we didn’t feel comfortable doing so,” Hackett said.

“We always tried to stress how we were completely independent of the previous ownership and were not involved in the decision-making. But now we don’t need to focus on that because we feel part of the club.”

The Trust works with residents as young as two years old up to adults in the later stages of life and they provide a diverse range of programmes to increase social inclusion opportunities; improve physical fitness, health and education; and lessen involvement in anti-social behaviour.

In recent days, they’ve launched another festive campaign to ensure every Primary School child gets to open a present on Christmas Day.

They’ve also been travelling to local schools to hand out free Blackpool shirts to all Year 2 children, as part of an initiative arranged alongside the club and Blackpool Supporters’ Trust.

Earlier this year, the Trust also proudly launched a new independent school for Year 10 students that require an alternative to mainstream education.

Hackett added: “We have a track record of delivering and we have great relationships with local schools, the council, the EFL Trust and so on.

“But I’ll be totally honest, it might be an award for the North West but my team is actually the best in the country given what we do and what the needs are of our community.

“We’ve seen real growth in the team over the last couple of years which has been down to Simon Sadler’s involvement and bringing (chief executive) Ben Mansford and (director) Brett Gerrity on the journey too.

“We now have a united front at this football club and I think you can see that. An award like this has been coming.

“It’s fantastic to get recognition like this because of all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. But what excites me is that we have so much more to come.

“Supporters should be really proud of the work the Trust does because there’s people out there that depend on this support.

“This isn’t about getting a pat on the back, it’s about ensuring even more people get the help and support they need.”

Sadler set his intentions out early on when he first took over in the summer of 2019.

While there’s clearly a focus on what happens on the pitch, Sadler also stressed the importance of the club playing a major part in the community to help rebuild that trust after years of division under the Oystons.

“Like me, Simon is Blackpool born and bred,” Hackett added.

“It’s difficult to express how important it is to have an owner that not only cares deeply about the football club, but also the people and the town.

“He set his stall out early on and what he said was music to our ears. It’s also been great to bring Ben and Brett onto our board as trustees.

“What we have now is a real synergy and I’m fortunate enough to be able to speak to Simon directly.

“His level of support is truly remarkable, we’ve got ourselves a very unique owner.

“I remember Michael Bolingbroke (who was on the interim board during receivership) saying we need to find a unicorn to take over the club and we’ve managed to find that in Simon.

“Not only is he putting his hard-earned money into the club, his support for the Trust means so much to us and we’ve got an owner who sees the good work we do and gets it.”

So what next for the Trust?

According to Hackett, there’s some exciting developments that will be made public in the not-too-distant future.

“There are certain things that will come out in the short-term that we’re really excited about,” he said.

“Firstly and foremost, we’re excited to build the next generation of fans which is something the new free shirt initiative for all Year 2 children will certainly help with.

“I remember back in the Premier League days where the kids around the town would all be wearing tangerine shirts, which is something we need to get back to.

“We’ve also got a new project we’ll announce in the New Year and some other exciting long-term developments which will only aid our growth.

“It says it all that when I started this role over 10 years ago we only had eight staff, but now we’re looking at 92 and we’re still growing. We’re not going to stop here.”

It’s not all been plain sailing though, in fact it was especially difficult during the first weeks and months of the global pandemic.

Like all organisations, it took the Trust a while to not only get used to Covid, but find a way to thrive and do even better.

“The first lockdown was probably the biggest challenge we’ve faced, certainly in the ten-and-a-half years I’ve been here,” Hackett admitted.

“It wasn’t necessarily a case of keeping ourselves afloat, but we knew it would be difficult to keep people in jobs.

“Despite the challenges, we were still able to support people in the community and we regrouped really quickly.

“We previously relied on face-to-face contact but we had to be flexible and soon found virtual and digital offers.

“We have a lot of vulnerable people in this town so we simply had to find a way to evolve our delivery.

“Now we’re in a position where we can react to a future risk of lockdown. Previously we were fairly reliant on others, for example the facilities we used didn’t initially open after lockdown which brought its challenges.

“But now we’re developing our own facilities which are at the forefront of our strategy, so we’ve learned a lot.

“The pandemic has proven how needed the Community Trust is and we were able to use Covid, which initially started out as an enormous challenge, but were able to turn it into a huge learning curve.

“It’s allowed us to grow and become a stronger organisation. We’re very resilient now, which is one of our key words we like to use as an organisation. We were resilient during the boycott and we’ve been resilient during the pandemic.”

In Critchley, Blackpool have a boss who is not only doing wonderful things on the pitch, but also cares deeply about what happens off it.

It’s no surprise then that Hackett only has positive things to say about his own working relationship with Pool’s head coach.

“I think I’ve worked with 11 managers during my time here and some have been better than others, but I rate Neil Critchley right at the top,” he said.

“He’s simply the greatest gentleman in football.

“For him to go on stage after he’s just beaten Pep Guardiola to the award and make a statement about how his award meant nothing compared to our community one says it all.

“The thing is, he’s not just saying it either. He genuinely believes it.

“He’s great to deal with and whatever we ask of him, he goes above and beyond to help us out. The players are brilliant too.

“Unfortunately Covid restrictions have made things difficult as we’ve not had the opportunity to engage as much as we would have liked to.

“But we’re so excited to get them out there because we’d love the lads to get involved.”

To find out more about the Trust’s work, visit their website here.