Ex-offender uses football to mentor young people

Young footballers playing in Shefford

Youngsters taking part in the Use Your Feet football project in Shefford - Credit: Grand Union Housing Group

An ex-offender dedicated to helping struggling young people after turning his own life around has been using football to help engage and support youths in need.

Stevenage dad Dan Gaze had a troubled childhood and was expelled from school at just nine years old, and later expelled from secondary school.

In 2002, he got into a vicious fight and served seven months in prison for actual bodily harm.

Since then, he has turned his life around, dedicated to helping struggling young people learn and grow from their mistakes.

Last year, he left his job as an assistant headteacher to set up the Dan Gaze Support Service. Working with schools, Dan mentors young people in Shefford, Hitchin and Stevenage.

Over this summer, he has led a football project in Shefford called Use Your Feet, funded in part by Grand Union Housing Group and Shefford Town Council.

Angela is the mum of participant Sean. She said: “Sean’s 13 and has additional needs. We found grassroots football not very inclusive, but Sean loves it here. It’s a godsend.

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“This has given him so much more confidence."

Dan said: “This is all about helping young people. Sport is a good outlet – it’s a tool to build relationships, confidence and self-esteem and for kids to make new friends.

“Even youngsters who never used to get involved in sport are keen to come along. It gets them off the street for an hour or two.”

Debbie Stuart, Grand Union’s director of wellbeing and safeguarding, said it's about "engagement, identifying and overcoming barriers, raising aspirations and mentoring support".

Also working alongside Dan is 16-year-old Andreas. His mum, Pippa, said: “Dan has identified skills in Andreas and built on those, especially his self-esteem.

“Andreas is very bright but, with autism and ADHD, there’s a great deal of temptation out there and the risk that things could go wrong.

“Dan is an excellent role model. He’s authentic, compassionate and has a can-do attitude. He’s very generous with his time and makes a world of difference for these kids.

“Keeping young people engaged and doing something constructive is what this is all about.”

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