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Neil Drysdale: Denis Law Legacy Trust is doing a marvellous job in Aberdeen

Denis Law at the unveiling of a statue in his likeness at Aberdeen Sports Village in 2012.
Denis Law at the unveiling of a statue in his likeness at Aberdeen Sports Village in 2012.

He is Aberdeen’s most famous football talent, a man who earned the freedom of his home city, and worked tirelessly to encourage youngsters of the benefits of exercise and keeping fit.

So it’s hardly surprising that the Denis Law Legacy Trust is expanding its operations as it prepares to welcome back youngsters to a series of initiatives which have already inspired thousands of lives.

Law, the bespectacled Scot who grew up in Printfield Terrace in the 1940s, prior to joining Manchester United and becoming the only Scot to win the Ballon d’Or, has always been a down-to-earth character whom, amidst the Old  Trafford glitz and glamour, never forgot his working-class roots.

That explains his backing for the Streetsport venture, which originated back in 2006 when RGU developed, in partnership with Police Scotland, a new approach to engaging with hard-to-reach “at risk” youngsters in Aberdeen.

The success of the enterprise attracted the Denis Law Legacy Trust in 2013, and they have subsequently been involved in the leadership of the programmes and helped them to thrive and gain recognition across Europe.

Since the early days, the Streetsport initiative has led to numbers increasing from 3,000 youngsters to more than 18,000 on an annual basis, while female participation has risen dramatically from 8% to 40%.

The use of mobile sports arenas has sparked an opportunity for the team to get right into the heart of communities across the city and allowed staff and volunteers to form partnerships with the most vulnerable young people.

Here is a shining example of the positive effects of different organisations pulling together in a common cause and being the catalyst for genuine progress, especially at a time when many youngsters are facing challenges.

The Cruyff Court Denis Law, which opened in 2017, is a free to access, fully floodlit amenity in which teenagers can thrive and mix with their friends. Its success led to a second facility being created in the city, commemorating Gothenburg Great Neale Cooper, and these cherished venues have helped generate safe spaces where young people can flourish.

The trust’s chief operating officer, Mark Williams, has been at the helm since 2014 and witnessed first-hand the impact of his team’s work, which has continued during the pandemic with the delivery of more than 750,000 pieces of essential PPE to care homes by Streetsport vans and staff and volunteers.

He said: “When I joined the charity, it was clear the partnership between the trust and RGU was at an exciting stage, primed for growth and with a real potential to make a difference to the lives of many young people.

“It’s what attracted me to the role and, every year, we have grown and supported more and more people via free to access sport and activities on young people’s doorsteps.

“Using sport is a great way to help support young people and the impact of our work has seen youth-related anti-social behaviour drop, more volunteering in the local community, while they have moved into employment or further education and left communities feeling healthier, closer and safer.

“Whilst 2020 was a very different year for everyone, we were still able to support the communities in which we work, via various innovative and creative ways, and it has really helped us to prepare for the year ahead and young people’s recovery from the pandemic.

“The future for the trust’s work will always revolve around providing opportunities and aspirations for young people as well as helping to improve the lives of disadvantaged communities. This is an exciting time for us to get back to doing what we do best and helping others and we have many projects about to be launched that will make a difference.”

I recently spoke to Williams and trust member David Suttie about the breadth of the work being carried out by this innovative group and the testimony of those who have taken part in the scheme is genuinely uplifting.

One 14-year-old said: “Streetsport has completely changed my life. I was getting into trouble quite a lot at school before I found the Streetsport team, but now I am actually doing really well.

“I ask the coaches to make sure that I work hard and I am always playing football with them, chasing them around the astro [at Northfield] for hours.

“The coaches are a big influence in my life and are always there when I need someone to talk to. They show me what a real friend is like and made me want to be better at talking to my friends and helping them when they need it”.

Law has returned to the Granite City regularly, and is clearly delighted at how Streetsport and the endeavours of the legacy trust bearing his name has gathered the momentum of a snowball rolling down a mountain.

He said: “When we brought the first Cruyff Court to Aberdeen, we wanted to have a focal point for the great work that is being done by staff and volunteers to nurture and encourage the next generation.”

It’s a heartening tale with plenty of fresh chapters waiting to be written.

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