The chief executive of Everton FC in the Community insists “our ambitions won’t slow down” as the charity approaches its latest anniversary.
Denise Barrett-Baxendale, also the Blues deputy chief executive, says the club’s globally renowned organisation will press ahead with big plans this year.
Sunday’s home game with Leicester City doubles as Everton in the Community’s birthday fixture and a series of pre-match activities have been lined up.
All week, Everton’s charitable arm has been holding a number of events to highlight the extensive work they do in the community with first-team players, members of the Ladies and under-21s squads and ambassadors all involved.
Mum-of-two Barrett-Baxendale, who joined the Blues in 2010, hopes Everton in the Community’s 27th year will be its best yet.
“We’re in the community every day, 365 days a year from 9am to 10pm at night,” she told the ECHO.
“This week we are doing extra showcase sessions and we are very clear that we want our community to have clarity about what we deliver.
“We have such a vast programme now - with 53 social programmes - in different parts of the community alongside the work we do at Goodison Park.
“We are having an awareness campaign this week, culminating in the birthday fixture this weekend.”
She added: “We’ve had fantastic success over the last 25 years and we are very proud of our history of delivering in the community.
“And in the last five years we have made incredible steps in expanding our social scheme, which had started off as participation in sport.
“We have a fantastic future ahead of us. We’re entering our 27th year and this year will see us open our Free School in the next five weeks.
“We’ll also be developing a community provision on Spellow Lane so we’ll have a community centre that will be there to facilitate a lot of our mental health programmes, a lot of our nutrition programmes, we’ll have a crèche in there, a place for yoga, a cafe and a wonderful homework corner.
“So this year will see two assets developed, which we’ve never had before and it is fantastic for us to have that ownership but also anchor in the community where people can visibly see what we are doing at Everton.”
The extent of Everton in the Community’s (EITC) reach means the club works with a vast array of people with a wide range of issues.
Five years ago, the Blues’ charity had 42 employees but now boasts 140 with more jobs to be created soon following the award of a major government grant.
An army of nearly 200 volunteers and between 55-60 community coaches help deliver the programmes but Everton’s deputy chief exec says this is no time to rest on their laurels.
“We’ll been announcing formally, in the next few weeks, a very large commissioning grant that we’ve secured directly from the government to work on an NCS programme and that will help young people in the city from the age of 14 up to, in some cases, people aged 24 on community activation programmes,” Barrett-Baxendale added.
“We also have a fantastic opportunity around May or June in what we are terming a ‘Super Community’ project at Everton.
“That will be Everton in the Community entering with some of those other organisations that represent Everton each and everyday.
“For example, Everton Ladies, the Everton Collection, the Everton Former Players and Heritage Society, Everton Free Schools and bringing them all together and having that sense of unity across everyone who represents Everton.
“We are working to develop some really high profile opportunities for fans to engage in each and every element of that organisation.
“So, no time to slow down.”
Barrett-Baxendale, who lives in Aigburth, has been the driving force behind the Free School initiative but insists it is impossible to pick a favourite from all of EITC’s programmes.
“We have 53 social programmes and each one of them is not just helping to turn people’s lives around, and it is not an exaggeration to say, they are saving lives,” she said.
“So how do you pick a favourite from that? Or say which one is having the most impact?
“From our disability programme, which is enabling people to compete for their country, or a disability programme going into Alder Hey and helping someone with limited mobility move on that day, how can you compare those two?
“They have such great impact.
“The Free School is fantastic and will be something that is flagship for us. It is something that goes across all of our themes.
“When I arrived here it was evident that education was an issue for the majority of the people in our programmes.
“Across the raft of programmes we had the common denominator was an issue with access to education so as a club we were brave enough to say ‘what can we do to intervene?’.
“And that is what the Free School has given us. Rather than waiting to receive people when they have had a number of additional barriers put up in front of them, we reached out as early possible, gave them that wrap around care and helped them redirect their lives and it has worked really well.
“The School is not to be viewed as a traditional school - it is a community asset on a learning campus. If you are an adult, you can go there. If you are a returning veteran, you can go there.”
Sunday’s game with Leicester will be Everton’s first Blue Nose day with the suggested donation of £2 going to EITC.
You can get your Blue Noses from Everton ONE, Everton TWO and the Park End Reception.