Everton in the Community (EitC) has served the city of Liverpool since 1988. Widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s leading football charities, and the recipient of numerous awards due to its innovative programmes that help reach 20,000+ individuals every year.
Employing 200+ staff to implement initiatives that focus on many topics, including mental health, inclusion, employment, youth justice, and disability, the charity could not exist without its 100+ volunteers that give up their time to ensure that the most marginalised of the city receive support and opportunity.
Royal Blue Mersey was privileged to be able to chat with James Ditchfield, one of EitC’s original volunteers, to get his thoughts on the charity that has been a major part of his life for nearly two decades. The 47-year-old, who lives with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, has taken on a variety of roles on his volunteering journey and cites EitC as something that has helped build his confidence as well as enabling him to help provide young people with an opportunity he was never afforded.
“EitC has helped me gain the confidence to go out there and help others. I always thought I couldn’t do certain things, but the charity has made me realise that I can. The coaches have always put confidence in me, and it helps me go out there and coach and help people.
“To be able to coach kids that live with cerebral palsy is a great buzz for me. I can remember being in their position as a child and there was nothing like that when I was their age, so to be able to be a positive change is massive for me.
“Even if you might be feeling down on certain days there is always someone who is there to lift you up and by the time you walk out the door your spirits are sky high,” continued the man affectionately known as ‘Ditchie’. “There is always someone looking out for you.
“The charity is very important to the city. Everton will eventually move grounds, but EitC will be staying around Goodison. We have the Hub on Spellow Lane, and we will be in and around the Walton area helping the people of the area and the city as a whole.”
Beginning as a coach on the charity’s soccer camps, James quickly developed as a pivotal member of EitC as the charity spread its wings and increased its scope. The lifelong Evertonian has also represented his beloved Blues on the field as part of the hugely successful Disability programme, which included the decorated Pan Disability D Band.
But it has always been his desire to help others that has been James’ passion, and he believes the Volunteer programme is pivotal to the successful running of EitC, as he explains.
“The volunteers are so important, as the charity relies on volunteers to keep the programmes going.
“The Volunteer programme is going on all of the time. Whereas I used to jump on everything and be here, there, and everywhere, I can now focus more on things I enjoy the most and where I feel I am best.”
Which leads nicely into the programme that James sees as his proudest moment of his glorious EitC tenure.
“The E-Steam programme gives me the chance to go into schools and coach, which is great. The programme manager, Mick King, has helped build my confidence to deliver E-Steam and go into the schools and provide some different kind of coaching to young people who really respond positively to what we are doing.”
James Ditchfield has cerebral palsy and is one of the Everton Disability Programme’s longest serving players, joining 20 years ago:— hummel (@hummel1923) August 27, 2020
“To take part in the photoshoot and be one of the first people to see and wear the kit is unbelievable, it’s topped it all.” #MoreThanEleven pic.twitter.com/QKthz52eBx
Katie Bramhall, the charity’s Volunteer manager added -
“We are fortunate to have 150+ active volunteers who give up their free time to come and make a difference in their local community on a daily basis. They play a pivotal role in the delivery of our programmes, and we are extremely grateful for their ongoing support.
“James is a volunteer like no other. Having completed over 2000 volunteering hours since 2017, he has given so much time and energy back to the charity and it’s evident the difference his volunteering has made for himself and our participants.
“I met ‘Ditchie’ on one of my first days in job and was overwhelmed with his passion for Everton in the Community and making an impact. Being an Evertonian, he is enthusiastic about supporting his local community in any way he can.
“James gives one hundred percent every session he works on and his infectious smile beams brightly around L4.”
Royal Blue Mersey will be producing a number of exclusive features on Everton in the Community programmes and the contribution of the charity for the city it represents, as told by those that drive the initiatives, as well as those it helps.
Cheers, Ditchie, and keep up the good work!
For more information on Everton in the Community and its life-changing work throughout the city, click here.