The most recently-formed hockey club in the UK has its sights set on league hockey after successfully raising £20,000 through a crowd-funding appeal.
Friendship, Respect and Excellence are the three core values that run through the FRE Flyers Hockey Club, which was formed as part of the 2012 Olympic Legacy and is based at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, in East London.
The FRE Flyers was formed in 2011, after a brainstorming session on how to create a sporting legacy in the boroughs hosting the 2012 Olympics. Originally a short term project, such was the enthusiasm and success of the movement that it is now a flourishing club in its own right and is on the verge of gaining charitable status. It is well supported by Olympic hockey players past and present, a relationship due in part to the involvement of the then Great Britain men’s coach Jason Lee in the initial brainstorming session.
In the beginning, the FRE Flyers consisted of 30 teenagers from the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham. These were young people who were at risk of missing out on any opportunities due to the deprivation of the area. The irony is that hockey is still perceived as a sport that is only open to a narrow group of people and would not have been on the radar of most of the youngsters as a sport they could play. The youngsters were coached by Great Britain hockey players and, as part of the project, were taken on a tour to Holland after just 12 weeks of hockey coaching.
Three years on and the club is in its next stage of development – it has just crowd funded more than £20,000 and will be using the money to secure the future of the club by recruiting 25 new youngsters and buying kit and equipment. The money will also go towards a replica tour of Holland, due to take place in June this year.
Currently, the FRE Flyers are training every week, and Andy Halliday, the assistant coach to the men’s Great Britain and England hockey team is head coach. Several of the youngsters are dealing with severe disadvantages in their home life and the regularity and discipline of hockey training is providing one stable factor in their lives. The FRE Flyers recently started their own all-ability league, playing on the Olympic Legacy pitches. This league acts as a stepping stone to playing regular league hockey in the future and four of the original FRE Flyers are now level one hockey coaches, with one of their number working full-time at the Olympic Legacy hockey centre.
Founder of FRE Flyers is Chris Grant, and he is still as involved and passionate about the club as ever. He explained what the FRE Flyers means to the young people involved. “A huge amount. The youngsters chose to call their club the FRE Flyers after the Olympic values of Friendship, Respect and Excellence and they did a lot of work with the Olympic players exploring what these values mean in practice. As well as learning to play the sport to a reasonable level astonishingly quickly, the young people have been able to forge positive relationships with high achievers who come from backgrounds very different to their own.
“The group have gained immense confidence and skills through these interactions. Some of them got help with their academic studies from the players. Ultimately, the aims of the FRE Flyers are all about the broader lives of the young people: their education; the jobs that they’ll ultimately get; the relationships that they’re able to form, and their physical and mental health. All of these are advanced through their involvement.”
And it is not just the FRE Flyers who benefit from the relationship. Chris said that many of the players had enjoyed some unforgettable experiences and formed friendships with the young players that was enduring. “On the original trip to Union Hockey Club in Nijmegen, Holland, the GB squad actually took their own tents and camped out. The relationships which formed between the players and the youngsters had benefits in both directions. After the men suffered a heavy defeat in the semi finals of the 2012 Olympics, their coaches used an email sent by the young FRE Flyers to pick them up for their bronze medal match.”
For the future, Chris says that the forthcoming trip to Holland will be a “profound” experience for many of the youngsters, some of whom have hardly left the neighbourhood, let alone the country. In the longer term, the aim is to become a fully functioning – but fully accessible club, offering opportunities to children of all abilities. “We want the youngsters to be prominently involved in activities relating to the forthcoming tournaments at Lea Valley, including the EuroHockey Championships 2015 in August, says Chris, “And we want East London to become a hockey hotbed, where young people know about hockey, and are able to access it easily.”
One of the players involved in the project from the start is the Great Britain and England goalkeeper George Pinner. He says: “The FRE Flyers is a fantastic project that we have been involved with as a squad since they were founded pre-2012. It’s great to have inspired kids to take up hockey who had no interest in the sport and to see how much the club and the kids as individuals have grown since then. It isn’t a one way thing though, as we get and learn so much from working with them.”
And head coach to the FRE Flyers, Andy Haliday, added: “This has been a remarkable journey for this diverse set of young people.”
Photograph: Members of the FREFlyers with GB team members