Arsenal in the Community

How we support sport for all

Community Features Pedal Power
Pedal Power run cycling sessions on the Arsenal Podium

Football is what we do at Arsenal, but it’s not all we do – we also support local clubs and organisations in other sports, to help people fall in love with being fit, healthy and active, regardless of ability or ambition.

Some people excel at sport and want to reach the very top. Others simply want to enjoy themselves, and plenty more fall somewhere in between. We hear from five people who have in recent years benefitted from the tireless work of local organisations that have received support from Arsenal in the Community and The Arsenal Foundation – and all of them share a huge passion for their chosen sport.

Pedal Power is a north London cycling club for people with disabilities. Beauty Haines reveals how it has helped her and her son…

“As well as having autism Azariah was born with sickle cell, which has meant that throughout his life he has had difficulty with coordination and struggled with things like running or even standing for a long period of time. He had a support worker who used to take him out every two weeks, and she was the one who discovered Pedal Power. I had bought him a bike when he was a little boy, as all parents do, but he just couldn’t ride it – he couldn’t move the pedals – so I had to push him.

“For years I had been looking for someone who could help him, and the instructors there were brilliant. Azariah had been using special bikes and three-wheelers, but I’ll never forget the first time he rode a two-wheeler by himself – he was gone! We were amazed, and we were all screaming and jumping around. Since then, he hasn’t stopped.

“I then started volunteering for Pedal Power myself – they had given me something I’d been looking for, for so long, and I wanted to show Jo, the founder, how much I appreciated it. At every session you see happy faces and their personalities really shine through. How could you not want to be a part of that?

“There are so many bikes to choose from and we love trying new routes. We especially like riding along the riverbank in Tottenham Hale, but we’ll cycle wherever we can. One of the sessions takes place on the Podium at Emirates Stadium – that was the result of a commission from Islington Council in partnership with the Arsenal Foundation to bring Pedal Power to the Emirates. It’s fantastic to be based here as many of our members are Arsenal fans. It’s a flat, safe space to cycle around and the storage space is vital as that’s hard to find in London.

“The Podium is a public space and the people cycling with Pedal Power are a positive image of disability – it says we can do it. Our club fits with Arsenal’s values as it is welcoming and inclusive.”

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The Arsenal Foundation helped Islington Boxing Club buy new equipment and take its work beyond the borough. Scott Smart, from Wembley, is just one who has felt the benefits…

“I’d always wanted to box but my dad would never let me, so once I turned 18 I decided to try it. I was finishing college and university wasn’t appealing to me, so I was unemployed and I wasn’t bothered where I was heading. I was going through the motions of life.

“My local club wasn’t affiliated with England Boxing so I wasn’t able to compete. I Googled boxing clubs in London and Islington was top of the list, and once I watched the club’s videos and read about its rich history I wanted to sign up.

“I went with my twin brother Troy, and as soon as we walked through the door we knew it was serious. The boxers were skipping and there was no talking. On command from the coaches, the boxers sped up in unison and the ropes sounded like they were whistling. We both signed up on the spot and went back to train the next night.

“We go three nights a week but can do extra work whenever we want to. Training lasts an hour and a half: skipping, sparring, bag and pad work and a circuit to finish. I compete as well – I’m a former National Development Champion – and I was extremely proud to be Islington’s club captain.

“I’ve also taken up coaching, working mainly with children but also training beginners and taking fitness classes. I get a sense of pride from it and feel like a valued member of the club. I also meet a lot of people from different walks of life.

“The best thing about IBC is the family atmosphere. I’ve made friends for life and have trained alongside the best amateur boxers in the country. Also I was overconfident as a youngster, but I’ve definitely become more humble and more aware that the older I get, the more of a role model I become.

“The club has also made me more focused. Boxing is a lifestyle and has changed the way I think – there’s less partying because sacrifices have to be made. I’ve been lucky to have travelled all across the world with Islington – in 2017 I went to Sri Lanka to help teach local children how to box. If it wasn’t for IBC I may have never got to visit many of the places I’ve been to.”

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Arsenal has long been a supporter of Islington Boat Club, a water-based activity centre providing training courses, a youth programme and schools tuition for youngsters. In 2018 we helped to fund renovations to its narrowboat, so kayaking champion Alex Christopher tells us about that and the club itself…

“The Boat Club is a great way to spend your free time – it keeps you fit and you meet new people. Sessions run on weekends and weekdays; the Saturday ones from 11am to 4pm. In the mornings we do drills and work on skills in the boat, and in the afternoons a range of activities are available – both boating and non-boating – because the club functions as a youth club, too. 

“On Tuesday evenings we go on the water in kayaks, paddleboards or canoes, and on Wednesdays we train for competitions. This is more serious, and is a time for the ‘hardcore’ kayakers to improve their slalom and sprint skills. I attend every session because I’m trying to develop to the best of my ability.

“The Boat Club is just perfect for what I want to do, and in May 2018 in my first kayaking competition I won a gold medal at the London Youth Games. On the day my nerves were jangling, as I was competing for Islington against every borough in London. But my coaches helped keep me focused and reminded me what I’d been working towards. I was very grateful for that, and after winning the slalom event it was a terrific feeling to be presented with the medal by British Olympic gold medallist Joe Clark.

“The club isn’t just about kayaking, though. The narrowboat also plays big part, for example by helping beginners get used to the water. It’s also used for courses in boat maintenance, as well as for parties, trips and rides on a cold day. I’ve shared many memories on the narrowboat with my friends, and learned lots of new things by travelling on it.

“Our club plays a big part in young people’s lives, and much of this is thanks to the support from Arsenal. I hope it continues for many years and that others are able to benefit as I’ve done, in ways that aren’t just sporting, but social and educational too.”

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Arsenal has helped to fund Highbury Table Tennis Club, which runs sessions for people of all abilities, male and female, young and old. Juliana Nguyen tells us about it…

“I loved it from my very first session. There was a lot of intense training but there was also time to learn from others and play friendly matches. I enjoy learning from others the most because I can develop my skills and expand my knowledge of the sport. One of the best parts is learning from matches I’ve lost.

“There are so many things I love about the club it’s hard to say which aspect I enjoy the most. It has helped me to build my confidence, improve in a sport I love, make friends and be a lot fitter and healthier.

“I used to train twice a week but I learned to balance my time well between studies, other interests and the club, so that went up to four times a week. Each session lasts between 90 minutes and three hours. I’ve also taken part in numerous events including Arsenal tournaments and school tournaments, and I love competing in the Central London league. I’m proud to be from Islington and I’m very grateful and honoured to have represented the borough at the London Youth Games multiple times.

“I’d also like to mention Sanket, who runs the club and is head coach. He has been my coach and mentor since I started playing when I was eight years old, and he really helped me believe in myself. He also gave me the opportunity to do work experience alongside him as an assistant coach. He has helped me become the table tennis player I am today and I’m very grateful.”

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Arsenal has also helped to fund Anaconda Swimming Club, which provides swimming lessons and competitive training sessions for Islington, Camden, Stoke Newington and nearby London boroughs. Dylan Baker tells us all about it…

“I fell in love with the sport at my first session. I love the competitive energy and I’ve proved I can achieve what I want to if I put my mind to it.

“Training is tough and we do a mix of endurance and speed work, with the emphasis on improving for sprint events. We do lots of drills to improve our technique and race skills.

“I swim for two hours around six times a week. Most of my sessions take place at Holloway, but on Sunday it’s at Cally Pool. I love how it benefits you in so many different ways – physically, mentally and emotionally – and I also love the friendly atmosphere. I like to socialise with people at the club because they always put a smile on your face and bring you up when you’re down. All teams should do this for each other. Although it’s a competitive sport we should all enjoy it with the people around us.

“I really love competing and I’d racked up more than 100 competitions by the time I was 15. Each one has been amazing. Regardless of whether I win or lose I always take something away from every race. For example in my first ever race my trunks and googles both fell off, but I quickly pulled on my trunks and kept on pushing. Twenty minutes later I had to re-focus for my next race and it went really well! Now I’ve reached the point where luckily I was chosen to represent Islington for the London Youth Games in swimming and aquathon.

“Our coaches are great. When I was young my coach Wayne said, ‘It’s hard to beat the person who never gives up.’ That quote has stuck with me over the past five years and it’s helped me push through the hard times. There’s also a very special coach called Michelle who inspires me, and very early on she gifted me a £40 voucher to buy swimming equipment. I’m forever grateful.

“I’m an Arsenal fan and I think it’s great that the club helps local charities and sports groups. It brings people together and makes a difference to society. I’m proud of Arsenal and I’m proud to be a Gunner.”

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