IN 2011, THIRTY NEWHAM & TOWER HAMLETS YOUNGSTERS WERE TAUGHT TO PLAY HOCKEY BY THE GB MEN'S SQUAD, THEN PREPARING FOR THE LONDON OLYMPICS.
The project was initially planned to last just three months, but almost four years later more than half of the original group are still playing, alongside new friends. Now we're asking for your help to turn our amazing Olympic legacy inner city hockey project into a proper club.
Back in 2011, after just twelve weeks' coaching, the youngsters travelled to Holland, where - guided by their new friends and coaches from Team GB - they played brilliantly against established teams. At an early stage, the new hockey players decided that they would call themselves the FRE Flyers - after the Olympic values of Friendship, Respect and Excellence - and it is really these qualities which our club is cultivating.
After their amazing hockey journey, the FRE Flyers just didn't want to give up the game. During the Olympic tournament, which took place on their doorstep, they provided noisy home support for their Olympian friends.
When Team GB suffered a heavy loss in the semi final, it was an email from the young people that the coaches used to pick their players up for their Bronze medal match. Here's an extract: "Not only have you taught us how to play a great sport, but you have helped us develop into who we are today ... You taught us - Friendship is to pull together as a team when things get hard - Respect our opposition and team mates - Excellence is always trying our best and never to give up … Remember the way you celebrated when we scored in Holland? That is exactly how we will be celebrating on Saturday when you pick up your medals."
As 2014 comes to an end, the FRE Flyers are still training every week. The group is 50/50 boys and girls (hockey's uniquely suited to this healthy mix), and includes several youngsters who are dealing with very significant challenges in their lives. Remarkably, their home pitch is the Olympic legacy hockey centre and their head coach is a key member of the England and GB senior men's management team. This autumn they started their own unique all-ability league to give them a stepping stone towards their dream of playing regular league hockey in the near future. But to do so, they'll need to double the numbers of FRE Flyers and want to recruit the next generation using the same kind of intense adventure that gave them such a thrilling first taste of hockey.
The GB Men's and Women's squads have agreed to help out again. But this time we want to use the second hockey journey to secure the future of the club and to ensure that we can sustain the amazing pastoral support and personal development that has characterised the FRE Flyers. Four of the original youngsters are now qualified Level 1 hockey coaches; one of them, Bradley, has secured a full-time job at the Olympic legacy hockey centre, and we're very proud of the progress that the youngsters have made in their educational and social development as well as in their hockey.
With your support, we'll recruit 25 new FRE Flyers from local schools and community groups around the Olympic Park. Each of them will be mentored by an existing member of the club and they'll be coached by GB internationals. In the run-up to next year's European Hockey Championships, which are due to take place on our home pitch, we'll take the FRE Flyers on another amazing journey, but more importantly we'll build the club infrastructure, purchase the necessary kit and make preparations to be playing regular hockey against other clubs by the autumn of 2015.
In the coming months, other sports will be added (we're already introducing tennis), and the club will open its doors to many more young people who will benefit not only from the sport, but from the support that the FRE Flyers can offer. Having incubated within a local community group, the club now has its own constitution, and is expecting a positive response to its application for charitable status by the new year.
Ultimately, the FRE Flyers can become a beacon, showing how bringing together elite athletes and young beginners can benefit everyone; how giving access to diverse sports can broaden horizons, and how a multisports approach can keep the attention of young people long enough to contribute positively to their education, health and development.