The Halton Moor community gathers to offer free football to more than 100 children as ‘hidden gems’ are revealed

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Meet the Armley woman, drawing from her own struggles to help creatives and artists…

Les Nelson, 38, grew up on the estate and saw firsthand the lack of youth opportunities in the area.

Les – now a Leeds United scout – was keen to make a change last summer and held free football sessions every Thursday to give kids the opportunity to get off the streets and improve their health and well-being, both mentally and physically.

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Les – now a Leeds United scout – was keen to make a change last summer and held free football sessions every Thursday to give kids the opportunity to get off the streets and improve their health and well-being, both mentally and physically. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Around 20 children came to the first sessions.

However, more than 100 children now regularly attend the sessions – as companies, impressed with the organization, help by funding eight professional trainers.

Thanks to the funding boost, Les and his team can offer kits and free shoes to kids who may not have access to the gear to get them playing if they need them – and bring the community together.

In recent weeks, some of the children – many who have never played before due to the rising cost of football and lack of accessibility – have been tracked down by both grassroots and professional teams.

Les – now a Leeds United scout – was keen to make a change last summer and held free football sessions every Thursday to give kids the opportunity to get off the streets and improve their health and well-being, both mentally and physically. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds United have signed two girls in their shadow squad, this is the undiscovered talent showing.

With Les now working for Leeds United there are some real opportunities for children who may not be playing grassroots football for a number of reasons including “transport issues or cost”.

“We’re desperate to close that gap,” explained Les.

Les said he now wants to promote the positive aspects of Halton Moor and prove that the sessions improve community.

Les – now a Leeds United scout – was keen to make a change last summer and held free football sessions every Thursday to give kids the opportunity to get off the streets and improve their health and well-being, both mentally and physically. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe

He told YEP he has noticed a huge shift in attitudes among young people in recent months and attributes the sessions to transforming the health, fitness and mental side of their lives.

“These companies have allowed us to give these children from Halton Moor real opportunities,” explained Les.

“We’ve had some kids who don’t have their own shoes or gear, so giving them the opportunity to play for free means everything to them.

“The community has helped make this possible.”

The sessions have quickly grown in scope due to the popularity of the coaching on offer, and many parents contact the academy to ask if their child can attend.

“Anyone can come,” Les said.

“Football is something that people take for granted but for these kids some only ever played on the street before they got a chance.

“For some of these kids, the opportunity to play for grassroots teams through our Come and Play for Free sessions is tremendous because they wouldn’t normally have had the opportunity to join such teams.

“We’ve seen real talent in some, they’re incredible.

“You ask where they’ve played before and they say: on the street or with friends.

“It has such a massive impact on the area and for these kids.”

In recent weeks, the number of Boy Scouts and Grassroots Managers attending the sessions has increased – resulting in more than 15 children being given the opportunity to train and play with teams.

There are more than 30 girls attending the sessions and the number is growing every week.

Two’s talents were spotted by Leeds United and given a chance to train in their shadow squad.

“Funding from the companies that support our work has helped the team provide transportation to some children who could not afford to travel elsewhere,” Les added.

“Honestly, there are some real hidden gems here.

“We give children opportunities that they might not otherwise have.”

Les said he has seen a big change in some children’s attitudes since they first attended the sessions.

“Some of the kids when they came to us were very calm, but seeing them gain confidence over time helps them a lot,” he said.

“It has helped boost their confidence off the pitch too, some are performing better at school and at work.”

Les wanted to personally thank a number of companies for giving the local community access to free soccer training sessions and providing essential equipment from soccer balls to other equipment.

Companies that have helped organize include: Sports Café – Halton, Mint Warehouse, Cocoon in the Park, Dance Fever Academy, Connonly and Broadley, AM4 Contracts Limited and GEJ Tiling Solutions.

Marshall Street Motors, Recruit A Driver, United Football Sporting Academy and DCT Scaffolding LTD also helped.

“The support we’ve received has been more than we could have ever imagined,” said Les.

“One of the companies that support us isn’t even based out of Halton Moor, they just saw our story and messaged to ask if they could fund some coaches.

“This is the best person.

“Looking ahead, we would like to expand the model to other areas across Leeds.

“We have been asked to hold meetings in a number of other areas in Leeds and we are working hard to make that happen.”

Free soccer lessons are now held every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. on the fields at Corpus Christi High School.

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