CHELSEA SCORES READING GOAL IN GAOL

Stamford Bridge and Her Majesty's Prison Wandsworth lie just four miles and short a hop across the River Thames apart. Yet the lives of the international football stars who grace one and the inmates who spend every minute of every day in the other are worlds apart.

However the work of Chelsea Football Club within our local community has, in recent weeks, overlapped with the stated obligation of the Prison Service - the duty to serve the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts; looking after them with humanity and helping them lead law abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.

The primary area of the joint work has involved book and magazine reading.

The Premier League Reading Stars project in local libraries, supported by Chelsea for the past five years, has been one of the success stories of football and education joining forces. A huge impact has been made on hundreds of families across the country with the book choices of Premier League footballers motivating participants to read more for pleasure.

Inspired by that achievement, Chelsea's education department targeted a new goal and went to gaol, extending the project into the prison library sector in partnership with staff at HMP Wandsworth.

The project sessions consisted of a game of two halves, with a one-hour library/education session followed by a one-hour football coaching session.

The project culminated in a recent celebration event when former Chelsea player Paul Canoville lead a team of club directors and coaching staff (pictured) into the most populous prison in western Europe.

Canoville took part in a Q&A session with inmates who had completed the scheme, answering questions on his recently-released autobiography Black and Blue.

'I was really nervous about the session beforehand,' said Canoville, who played 103 games for Chelsea between 1982 and 1986.

'But these guys are no different from me. It's just that I was lucky in that I managed to find a career that was football.

'The questions they asked me were great. They didn't hold back, asking me about the stuff in the book on how I got caught up in drugs, the racism, my illness.'

Mark Maloney, a gym orderly at Wandsworth who took part in the scheme, was equally enthusiastic.

'It's been brilliant that there's been a chance to do something different, something that's got people here up and about and doing something energetic. There were some words said with this being Chelsea and there being Arsenal fans in here but in the end, plenty of the lads were disappointed they couldn't get on the scheme with there being limited places.'

A few years ago, Wandsworth was subject to an unfavourable report stating inmates were shunning the gym and library and turning into 'cell potatoes'. Chelsea's Football in the Community department is looking to develop more coaching programmes there.

Suzi Raymond, Chelsea's education manager explained: 'Premier League Reading Stars has been well-received at HMP Wandsworth and we hope to build on this partnership.

'Football is a great way to inspire people of all ages. The project helped to motivate the participants to get the most out of the library, sports and learning opportunities available and to develop important life skills.'

Oliver Ababio, the prison librarian said: 'The project worked really well as a game of two halves and both the football literacy and coaching sessions were popular. The evidence is in the interactivity, the guys are happily volunteering to participate, reading aloud and sharing opinions.'

In support of another initiative, National Magazine Week, which ran last week and celebrated the 2,600 magazines bought every minute in the UK, the Chelsea education department has donated a number of sports-based magazines to the prison library and will also continue to send copies of the Chelsea magazine throughout the season.


To read more about Chelsea's involvement in the Premier League Reading Stars Prison Extension Project, click here.

Chelsea would like to thank David Asker, Oliver Ababio and Mark Wells at HMP Wandsworth for their support and enthusiasm, and all the participants and staff.

We are grateful for the support of Chelsea FITC staff Ian Jordan, Daniel Gill and Daniel Greatley as well as author Rick Glanvill and Paul Canoville.

We would also like to thank Maria McNicholl, head of quality and development at the St Giles Trust for her help in identifying and establishing contacts between the partners and Ralph Newbrook, PLRS project manager.