Khalsa Youth Football Academy provides sports programmes, forums and training for people with learning disabilities in Hertfordshire. Project Leader Bal Singh talks about Khalsa's anti-racist origins and how it supports its members.
“Growing up in the 1980s, my friends and I were Asians in North Hertfordshire who loved football. Liverpool Football Club is famous for its large Asian fanbase, and their success during that decade inspired us to start playing. Personally, I was especially inspired by Howard Gayle, who was Liverpool’s first black player.
Our aim from day one of Khalsa was to tackle inequality, racism and under-representation in the wider community. Football just happens to be the mechanism of engagement. In fact, one of our participants, Jhai Dhillon, was the first-ever Asian player to represent local club Hitchin Town FC’s first team.
We want to support better accessibility for people with learning disabilities. There are lots of barriers particularly for children and adults with learning disabilities to access provision in the community and this includes support for parents, families and carers. My passion is now to fight for their rights because I know that is needed.
We’ve become a voice for vulnerable families in the community and a way of connecting people who really need it.
A training session might include skills such as kicking, striking, dexterity and mobility. You might have a child who finds it hard to even go into a building and we see them come in and start jumping and developing fine motor skills. If they’re non-verbal, we can use picture cards to show what’s happening now and next.
We’re building leaders too, who can carry on this work in the future. One of our members, James, joined us when his confidence was low and he was having a hard time at school. He started out quite shy and would sit at the back at first, but we supported him to develop into a mentee and now he’s happy to lead sessions. Right now he’s getting the qualifications at school to become a sports coach. We’ve empowered him to be more confident in any situation and we’ve let him do it naturally, giving him that guided discovery. We’re all very proud.
There’s always that little bit of uplift for the mentees – they look forward to coming and seeing their teammates so there’s a positive vibe. With those with learning disabilities, sessions are something their parents and carers look forward to because they meet up with others in the same position and can talk about their experiences.
What we have here will continue. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of funding to create change and now we’ve become a voice for vulnerable families in the community and a way of connecting people who really need it.”
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