Grenfell Athletic: 95 per cent of our players have mental health issues
“I had mental health problems before Grenfell, witnessing it was a disaster to my life,” says Joseph John, a Grenfell Tower survivor. “I went to the Grenfell Athletic training sessions and was greeted with love. I keep going every week. We won the league. We won the cup, and I have never looked back.”
Almost six years since the Grenfell fire, Grenfell Athletic remains a vital lifeline for locals. Players don’t need to be good at football, they mainly sign up for the community benefits. It’s been such a success that another club, Minds United FC, launched in 2020 purely for those experiencing mental health problems.
“It’s about staying together as a community, trying to heal from what’s happened and rebuild from the bottom upwards,” says Tia Best, another player for Grenfell Athletic who has launched her own sweets business in the local area to give back to her community. “My end goal is to have a big magical shop that kids can look at and go, ‘I’d love to go in there,’” she says. “My goal is to make sweets affordable. You can get sweets from the cinema but I feel like there’s a gap – it’s not really affordable for the community I’m from. That’s the key thing for me.”
Steven Bartlett, one of the dragons from Dragon’s Den, recently met with survivors and members of the community to offer internships and advice. He has supported Kia’s sweets business by making a “massive” order of sweets, “which was pretty cool,” says Kia.
But Grenfell Athletic still doesn’t have a home ground, and speaking to City A.M., Joseph imagines a future version of the club with its own shower block and “proper changing rooms, where kids can play and grow” as the community continues to heal from the disaster.
Rupert Taylor, founder of Grenfell Athletic, has “certainly seen a rise in people encouraging and inspiring others” by making their own businesses in the area, but the fact remains that the region of Kensington and Chelsea the players live in is under-funded.
“I think there could be much more support from world class businessmen like Steven, people in our community need to look at somebody who inspires them, that reflects them,” says Rupert Taylor, founder of Grenfell Athletic, who supports small businesses in the area.
One piece of recent support has been the gift of two Mercedes-Benz electric vans which drive players to and from matches, and help support the wider community in their entrepreneurial projects. Getting players together before games helps build comradery and team spirit, but it’s challenging to get players together, with bad transport connections and players living in different areas, many without cars.
“These Mercedes-Benz vans are a no brainer really, being a conduit to support the wider community, really being able to uplift some of these young entrepreneurs who are trying to carve their way in life” says Taylor.
There has been “various opportunities” to work with commercial brands over the years since the fire, says Taylor. “We’ve had many opportunities that haven’t felt right, many many opportunities that haven’t felt right,” but it was the late radio presenter Jamal Edwards who recommended to Taylor and Grenfell Athletic that they collaborate with Mercedes-Benz.
During a talk on Grenfell Athletic Taylor had asked whether anyone could hook them up with a minibus. “Jamal was at the talk and he said, “I absolutely can help you with that,’” says Taylor. “He kind of tied us down with Mercedes which was incredible, and I suppose that’s probably the only opportunity that I want to say has worked out well, developed traction and gained legs. We’ve not got two lovely Mercedes-Benz vans.”
For charities working with extremely vulnerable people, deciding whether to partner with corporations is “a really tough line,” reminds Taylor. “A tough line that I have to face every day from a personal perspective.”
Mercedes-Benz, which declared net profits of 14.8 billion last year, were unable to confirm specifics about how else they will be helping the Grenfell community, other than with free vehicle repairs. They say their partnership is ongoing.
Corporate partnership experts tell City A.M. that a roadmap for where the partnership is going next is the bedrock of a strong partnership. “The gift of two luxury vans is a great start, but what comes next?” asks Jonathan Andrews, corporate partnerships specialist at Remarkable Partnerships. “Are there opportunities for Mercedes employees to volunteer to support the Grenfell community, or could they run a promotion in Mercedes show rooms where they make a donation to Grenfell every time someone books a test drive?
Angela Kail, Director of Consulting at NPC, a think tank and consultancy, agrees. “The best relationships are ongoing, and make use of the business’s expertise, networks and brand power to further the charity’s mission,” she says.
But Andrews also asserts that the offer is generous, and that there is “no way” the football club would have been able to afford the vans which Grenfell Athletic founder Taylor says are a lifeline to his team.
“You may get the questions of, you know, is Mercedes-Benz vans milking off the back of a r a tragedy, where people face trauma? But I suppose that’s something that we’re able to answer in this particular project,” says Taylor. “The proof is in the pudding. We have these vans and we’re really clear on what the vans can do to support the club internally, but what the vans will do externally is even bigger. Supporting young entrepreneurs, supporting people moving their food around. It all helps, it all helps to enrich our community and grenfell athletic is just a conduit for that.”