Local lad Dave Edwards is back at his hometown club Shrewsbury Town and relishing a pivotal role as a trustee with the club’s community trust, responsible for connecting his fellow players to community work.
How important is Shrewsbury Town in the Community [STITC] to local people?
I think all these organisations play a huge part. Shrewsbury in particular is a very small town but the football club has a large reach to other small towns and villages. The charity is really the heart of all of that and has the ability to engage a wider audience of all age ranges.
How does STITC help?
They put on so many different schemes for lots of people who need help, from those with disabilities, experiencing loneliness, dementia, homelessness – the list goes on. Having the power of the football club gives the people who work there an opportunity to reach more people.
Have you always enjoyed getting involved with community work?
I think all footballers really enjoy it. Community engagement is written into contracts, as it should be – it’s part of your duty as a footballer. I’ve done it right from the start. I think the first couple of times as a younger player you’re a little bit nervous. You’re not used to going out to places and interacting with people you may not be as comfortable with – the older generation you might not be used to talking to, or being around people with learning disabilities or physical disabilities for the first time.
Does it take time to adjust?
Actually, you become accustomed to it very quickly and from that moment on it’s brilliant. It’s so empowering for a player. We’re in such a privileged position to be able to give back. You can see the enjoyment on the people’s faces you go to help. It’s one of the best parts of being a footballer.
Do you think you have a special platform as a footballer?
As a player you’re put on a pedestal a little bit. you have a bigger voice in the wider community than you perhaps realise. You have to really think about how you use that voice. Things like being in the community and helping different organisations is a very powerful tool that we have.
Why get involved in community work?
It’s vitally important from a human point of view and it’s very rewarding as well. You feel like you’re really part of the community, especially if like me you’re a local lad – I feel a bigger responsibility to do it. Even more so when you come to a new club and you’re not from the area, I think it helps to integrate you into the community a lot better. You soon realise what the people of that town or city are like when you see what goes on in those community sessions.
You are now a trustee of STITC…
Yeah, I was really honoured to be asked to do it. It’s a nice hybrid between the football staff and the community guys. I have access to both parts of it now and I think that can help when you’re trying to get players more involved and explaining the importance of what the guys in the community do. It gives me a little bit more leverage, so when I’m getting calls about community work I can really target which player will be best to pay a visit to a certain person or take part in a certain day that’s going on. I think it really helps to have somebody who is a bit of a go-between and I really enjoyed being on the board of trustees and getting to see the inner workings and how much effort goes into making it successful.
You help The Offside Trust supporting victims of child abuse in sport. How did that come about?
I started to hear about some of the cases that were happening and the safeguarding issues that used to go on at football clubs. A former player Steve Walters who was heading up the Offside Trust reached out to me and a few other players at clubs. They were trying to get out there publicly what had happened to them as children and how we need to stop this happening to future children. I was absolutely baffled at the time because he was saying football clubs and players with a higher profile didn’t really want to get involved with a taboo subject. I couldn’t quite get my head around that. He explained his story and I was horrified by what Steve and some other guys had been through.
And you had to get involved?
I had young children myself and I thought ‘we have to get behind this’. I was at Wolves at the time and they were one of the first clubs to put their name to it. Once I had heard about it and heard people had shied away from speaking out, I thought it was a bit of a duty of mine to try and help these guys. What they have been through and to come out and relive the experience just to help future generations of children not to go through the same thing – they deserve so much credit for what they have done. I just hope that goes from strength to strength.
Looking ahead personally, what are your plans after retirement?
I think it might be sooner rather than later! I’m approaching the end of my career and I feel very fortunate that I have been in a position while I’m still playing to get involved in organisations like I have done. In particular the Little Rascals Foundation is something I will give a lot more my time to along with Shrewsbury Town in the Community. I have other things outside football, more businesses that I would like to get involved with as well.
What about staying in the game on the coaching side?
At the moment coaching is not really on my radar but the amount of people I speak to who played football and say once you’re out of it after a year or so you really start to miss it – so that is something I will never close the door on. But that first year or so I would like to commit myself more to the foundation work and businesses.
As well as his club and community commitments, Dave is involved with many good causes. But his biggest project is the Little Rascals foundation, which he set up with his best mate from school, Ben Wootton
The enterprise started as Little Rascals soft play centre in Shrewsbury in 2015. It was mainly a business venture – though the intention was always to have a charity arm, building on Ben’s experience of working with children in care and young people with disabilities. Soon the charitable work almost engulfed the original business and The Little Rascals Foundation was launched in 2017.
“Straight away, when we started to look at using Ben’s experience and wisdom, we realised there wasn’t a lot going on around Shrewsbury to help children with disabilities – apart from what the guys at Shrewsbury Town in the Community were doing,” says Dave.
“We wanted to create an environment where these children and their families could come and feel comfortable. This really grew when we found out how families with children with learning disabilities and challenges like autism could never go to soft play centres because of the environment, the noises and the unpredictability of what’s happening there.”
Three days a week the centre is open solely for children with disabilities. Now the range of services offered by the foundation is expanding. The team helps children with work experience, mentoring programmes, holiday clubs and after-school clubs.
“We are making that much of a difference that every penny the business turns over goes straight into the foundation so we can keep delivering more and more of these services,” says Dave. “It has changed our business completely, but we get so much more out of what we are doing now and the difference you are making in the community is very rewarding.”