Ollie Sills is a foster carer in North Wales and, until recently, was a director of Colwyn Bay Football Club. He helped the club introduce a 'free season tickets for foster carers' scheme.
My wife and I have been fostering for around 15 years, initially providing respite for families of children with learning difficulties for Manchester City Council.
After having children of our own, we decided to move to North Wales in 2012 (where my wife originates from) to bring our three kids up in a rural location and to be closer to their grandparents.
After settling in, we undertook re-training to become approved foster carers for Conwy Borough Council, where we now provide short term fostering for looked after children.
Finding my football fix
Being an avid football fan, and due to a five-year ethical boycott with thousands of other fans due to bad ownership of my home town club, Blackpool FC, I decided to get my football fix elsewhere and so started to watch my local team, Colwyn Bay Football Club.
After being warmly welcomed by staff and supporters alike, I became hooked, and after a few seasons watching from the terraces, I was eventually presented with the opportunity to join the board of directors.
With the club keen on further strengthening their links with the local community and attracting a younger demographic, I presented an initiative to the board in which the club might offer free season tickets to local foster carers and their families.
The chairman and board of directors had no hesitation in agreeing to this idea, seeing it as a token of appreciation to all the local foster carers and their families who provide care for looked after children in the region.
Following on from this, the management team also got involved, helping to endorse the 2018 Foster Care Fortnight via social media, with the club continuing their involvement via promotion of Conwy Fostering Services’ information evenings on its website and in the local media.
Colwyn Bay Football Club’s Director of Football, Neil Coverley (pictured with me above - he's on the left), stated: 'When Ollie first suggested this initiative to the board, it was met with overwhelming approval. Colwyn Bay Football Club wanted to give something back to all those local families who go out of their way to provide a safe and caring environment to looked after children in the Conwy Borough. It’s been wonderful to see foster carers and their families taking up the offer, we welcome them to the club and hope they enjoy the entertainment on offer.'
And the chips were good too!
Foster carer, Paul Whittle, who provides long-term foster care for several children in the local area joined the scheme this season after seeing the offer publicised on social media. He said: 'It’s a great way to support looked after children and carers alike. This opportunity allows the children to feel part of the wider community. We have already been to watch a couple of pre-season games with the children which they have really enjoyed…and the half-time chips were good too!'
I’ve been humbled by the effort and dedication of everyone at Colwyn Bay Football Club towards promoting fostering in the local community – it’s a close-knit, family oriented and friendly club - ideal for foster carers, their families and the looked after children who might fancy taking in some football without the worry of overwhelming crowds or inflated prices.
Unfortunately, I had to step down from the board of directors earlier this year, due to spiralling work commitments. However, I continue to help the club out where I can, and I’ve already purchased a season ticket for the 2019/20 season in the JD Cymru North League (even though I’m eligible for a free one through the foster carers initiative!).
It’s great to see that even in my absence from the board, the chairman, directors and staff at Colwyn Bay Football Club continue to welcome local foster carers for free – something I hope, and believe, will continue indefinitely.
An idea for every club?
With my first love, Blackpool Football Club, now under new, decent ownership, and as a current member of their Supporters Trust, I and other fans were recently polled as to what improvements the club might make under its new stewardship.
I again submitted the “free season tickets for local foster carers” idea – How amazing would it be if Blackpool F.C. took up this initiative too, to provide free season tickets to foster carers on the Fylde coast? Who knows, maybe one day every football club in the UK might follow suit and make this standard practice!
Whatever the outcome, Colwyn Bay Football Club should be proud of pioneering this initiative and the work they continue to do to promote fostering in North Wales. I hope they have a fantastic 2019/20 season.