Home Mental Health & Well-Being Aston University Researchers Are Supporting Aston Villa Foundation to Enrich Local Lives

Aston University Researchers Are Supporting Aston Villa Foundation to Enrich Local Lives

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Aston University researchers have teamed up with the Aston Villa Foundation to develop a robust new approach for measuring the success of its community projects across Birmingham.

The University has entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the Foundation to create a toolkit for measuring how its projects bring benefits to the quality of life and well-being of the people they work with.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner, and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. The UK-wide programme helps businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology, and skills. Aston University is a sector-leading KTP provider, with 80% of its completed projects being graded as very good or outstanding by Innovate UK, the national body.

Community engagement is an essential part of a professional footballer’s role and is encouraged and supported across Premier League clubs. Delivering the community work of the Aston Villa Football Club, the Aston Villa Foundation delivers up to 40 youth engagement, disability, health, well-being, and education projects each week for young people. AVF’s mission is “Working Together to Enrich Lives,” and in 2023, its projects engaged with 23,000 people across the city.

Yet football foundations like AVF share one common challenge: evidencing the impact they have on the communities they serve. With funding generated through charitable donations and grants, demonstrating value using reliable tools is crucial for raising further income.

To tackle this challenge, Aston University researchers are applying expertise from the healthcare sector to create a standardised evaluation toolkit for Aston Villa Foundation projects. This will include developing approaches for measuring quality of life, well-being, and social cohesion using established methods like standardised questionnaires, focus groups, and observations. The team are also developing training resources so Foundation staff are equipped to determine how to use the toolkit to evaluate their projects after the KTP ends.

Evidence from these evaluations will help AVF staff put together stronger grant applications and inform decisions about which of their projects need further resources based on the social benefits they deliver.

AVF’s goal is to lead the way in evaluating football foundation projects so they can help benefit more communities. The toolkit developed by this KTP will not just be used by AVF but will also have the potential to be used by football foundations across the country, and other sports clubs. For AVF, creating an evaluation framework that is easy to use, grounded in science, and effectively evaluates the full array of football community initiatives is a project that requires expert support.

At Aston University, the project is led by Professor Rachel Shaw, a health psychologist in the Institute of Health and Neurodevelopment and Director of the Applied Health Research Group at Aston University. Professor Shaw has a track record of developing and evaluating new ways to improve and maintain health and wellbeing, and he has previously worked with AVF to evaluate their Villa Vision project. This provided vision checks for thousands of inner-city children as well as educational activities about eye health.

Professor Shaw is supported by Psychology Lecturer Dr Gemma Mansell from the Applied Health Research Group, who brings expertise in evaluating psychological support, and Dr Anna Ackfeldt, senior lecturer at the Aston Business School, who researches training, communications, and leadership.

Brenda Wangari, a KTP associate, is in charge of the day-to-day management of the project. Brenda works within AVF on the design and delivery of the new toolkit and will promote the resource across Premier League football clubs as a gold standard for evaluating community engagement projects.

Guy Rippon, Head of Foundation and Community Partnerships, Aston Villa Foundation, said: “Our range of projects is extensive, but we need to produce hard data and information. For example, we have a 12-week mentoring system for young people becoming involved in the criminal justice system. We need to know if that makes a difference, and we need the evidence to prove it.”

Professor Rachel Shaw, a health psychologist in the Institute of Health and Neurodevelopment at Aston University, said: “Our work with the Aston Villa Foundation contributes to Aston University’s 2030 strategy to be ambitious in our research by being inclusive, transformational, and entrepreneurial. It aims to improve the current and future prospects of underserved communities and bring together excellent science with real-world needs. It will also establish a novel impact evaluation framework with potential for adaptation in almost any organisation working with communities to improve health and well-being.”

Brenda Wangari, KTP Associate, said: “I’m already learning so much from this project. Working within the Foundation is giving me a newfound appreciation for the game and the impact of corporate social responsibility in sport. I’m also gaining valuable new skills in how to share knowledge from research with different audiences, which will serve me well in my future career.”

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