Through his role as chair of governors at Batchwood School, Kerry met a former footballer who is doing his bit for the community by helping children in difficult circumstances. We invited St Albans resident and former England and Arsenal striker Alan Smith to write a column about his mentoring role at the school.
COMMITMENT IS THE KEY
When Anne Spencer, Batchwood School’s wonderful Head Teacher, asked a mutual friend of ours if she would like to do some mentoring at the school, our friend replied: ‘I don’t think it would suit me, but I know who would be great at it.’
Whether that is true, I’m not sure, but when I heard about that conversation it planted a seed. I had been wanting to contribute to the local community but didn’t quite know how or in which direction. Maybe this was it, so I went in to have a chat with Anne who explained that, while the school had plenty of female mentors, they were crying out for male ones.
To explain, this St Albans school caters for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, those that haven’t been able to settle in mainstream education. As a result, the challenges are much greater for teachers and pupils alike. Listening to Anne, it sounded like these kids needed all the help they could get so I agreed to go in once a week to see three or four boys.
I just have a chat with each for twenty minutes or so, see what they have been up to in school and out, see if anything in particular is bothering them, anything they would like to discuss.
Quite often, we will simply talk about football – a popular topic for them and a natural one for me, someone who spent thirteen years in the professional game at Leicester City and Arsenal. Our chats don’t always have to be too deep or serious. It’s more about striking up a relationship that means they feel comfortable talking if something is on their mind.
Not only that, it’s about showing up regularly to display a commitment. Too many have been let down by adults in the past, leading to a total lack of trust. That’s why it’s important to maintain contact over a good length of time, just to prove that you are actually interested in their lives, not just someone who popped his head round the door a few times.
And there is nothing more satisfying than seeing someone progress after benefitting from Batchwood. One of my boys, having completed his exams at 16, went on to West Herts College last summer. He came back to school the other day and it was great to see him talk about his new life and how much he was enjoying the course. After several years of uncertainty he now had some stability, not to mention the prospect of a proper career.
I’m now seeing a new group of lads, some of whom have only just joined Batchwood. They are all basically good kids, simply in need of a guiding hand. Anne and her staff work wonders to provide that. It’s a privilege to play just a small part.