Notts County community project brings football to life for refugee students

Notts County community project brings football to life for refugee students


Student refugees and asylum seekers from Nottingham College are perfecting their football and social skills through “a masterclass” of weekly sessions run by Notts County FC’s charity.

The free six-week initiative for the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students and learners studying a variety of courses across the College, are currently taking place at the Maid Marian Way campus sports hall on Monday evenings.
Run by Football in the Community (FITC), the charitable arm of the sports club, the sessions are aimed at integrating refugees and asylum seekers into British life and helping them to feel part of the local community to reduce social isolation.

Among other things, the initiative aims to help college students, mainly aged between 16 and 19 (but also including people over this age) to:

•    Stay fit and healthy
•    Meet new people
•    Play football with FITC’s friendly, experienced coaches
•    Improve their English
Speaking of the importance of the free weekly sessions for the College’s refugee and asylum seeker students, Will Thompson, the Enrichment Sports Development Officer at Nottingham College said:

“It’s so important for us to give students, who come from many countries from all around the world, as many opportunities as possible and to try to remove any barriers that might be in their way. With our learners, it’s sometimes a language barrier, a confidence issue, transport or other costs and a number of other issues. However, having these free sessions on site hopefully starts to remove a number of barriers.
“They can also feel comfortable being in a safe environment with students they may or may not already know. They laugh, get active and even meet new friends. They will even learn skills in sport they often don’t even realise they’re learning!”

The special refugee project, is in partnership with the British Red Cross and Nottingham Refugee Forum, and is enabling up to 25 students a session to learn a variety of professional skills from highly skilled expert coaches.

Senay Zelizhi, 16, a refugee studying ESOL at Nottingham College, who has a passion for football and plays in a Winger position said:

“The main challenge of living in Nottingham is the language barrier and making friends who don’t speak the same language. My communication skills are improving though and making life easier. Sometimes I feel a bit sad and worried about my family back home but when playing football, I forget about it all!

“When playing football, I feel free and happy and I love to score and win. The football group is helping me to become more confident. It’s also very useful, as I don’t have enough English or enough skills and I want to make friends.”
The College has put together a variety of different activities aimed at helping ESOL students and other refugee and asylum seekers to settle into society, often incorporating English, Maths and ICT in the sessions. 

Speaking of the College’s drive to combine learning of sport with other educational skills, Linda McDonald, one of the Faculty Managers for ESOL at Nottingham College said:

“It’s a great opportunity for our ESOL learners, both male and female, to let off steam, practice their language skills and get to meet other students from across the college. It supports their language learning in the classroom in an informal environment.

“Several of the students from last year are now playing for one of the College football teams. For some of these guys, that’s a fantastic opportunity for their personal development.”
Although the focus is on social interaction and inclusion for the students, learners are also hugely benefiting from gaining real football skills that are taught by members of the Notts County Football team. By encouraging people to join in a sporting activity that they really enjoy, it is hoped that as well as learning impressive skills, that participants will gain a real sense of identity and self- worth.

Tim Hatton, Senior Manager at Notts County’s Football in the Community said:

“The goal of our charity is to reach out to people - many of whom are vulnerable - who may feel isolated and not welcome in society. By doing what we can to show people that they have a place and value in society, it can greatly transform and have a positive impact on people’s lives.

“Our project helps refugees and asylum seekers feel at home in Nottingham and welcomed by their local football club. As it’s a universal language, we use football as a magnet and have a wider impact, such as improving refugees’ physical and mental health, as well as ensuring they feel less isolated.”

Beginning in November, the sessions could well extend into the New Year due to increased interest and popularity from the students. Thanks to the Nottingham College and Notts County FITC mutually beneficial partnership, the hope is to further combine the learning of English Language with the learning of football. 

To find out more about Notts County’s Football in the Community football project, please visit

Additional information

If you’re under 19, you could represent the College in various sporting competitions and if you’re over 19, you can train with the squads. For more information, please click here

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