Jo McKenzie
20 Years

As Our Projects Manager, Jo McKenzie celebrates 20 years at The London Playing Fields Foundation this month she explains how the charity and her role has changed in the last two decades.

“We joke that LPFF is the best charity that no-one has ever heard of, but that really was the case when I started here in 2000. A quick trawl of the internet before my interview threw up one small paragraph about the organisation which didn’t give me much to go on. However, after an hour’s interview with Alex I was excited to hear about the work of the charity and enthused about its future plans.

“The whistle-stop tour of five playing fields on my first day should have given me an indication of how busy my first year was going to be. The new building at Peter May Sports Centre had just come into operation, the new pavilion at Fairlop Oak Playing Field was opened and we launched the All Nations Football Festival at Douglas Eyre Sports Centre with my hero John Barnes. It was clear that this was not a charity resting on its laurels!

“As Admin Assistant I managed the grounds bookings and I enjoyed the regular contact with our teams and the groundstaff but over the years my role changed as more revenue funding became available and we started to deliver more social inclusion projects. As Projects Manager I ran the All Nations project for over ten years, engaging with hundreds of young men from refugee groups and empowering them to access mainstream sport and assimilate into London life. Alongside it we developed a youth competition which was equally as successful. This was groundbreaking stuff back in 2001.

“Since then we have delivered projects for non-sporty teenage girls (Active Angels) and boys (KOPS) to increase their confidence in taking part in physical activity and encouraging them to continue to do so into their adult lives. Our Female Coach Development project helped over a hundred women to continue their football coaching journey by supporting them to access relevant work experience and FA courses. More recently we have delivered Green Hearts to encourage the local community to make greater use of our fields for informal exercise. In doing so we have engaged with a new audience who have been grateful for the opportunity to walk or run around the green space on their doorstep.

“All of these projects have shown how the creative use of playing fields can address inequalities and we have delivered them by working in partnership with organisations who are experts in their fields including Refugee Council, County FAs (particularly London FA), NELFT, Leyton Orient Trust and Brentford FC Community Sports Trust. We have also been very lucky in recruiting brilliant Project Coordinators to oversee this work: Chris, Tina, Tina, Sonia, Sally and John, I am talking about you!

“Crucially, over the last twenty years we have been successful in securing £2.9million of revenue funding to deliver this work. This comes from a combination of statutory sources, corporate bodies, trusts and foundations and individual donors. This is a fantastic achievement for such a small charity and one of which I am very proud of.

“When I first joined LPFF we were based in a small office in Mayfair and I had no idea that I would be spending so much time at our playing fields in Walthamstow. I dread to think of the number of hours I have spent rattling up and down the Victoria Line. But it was all worth it as I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be hands on, organising football tournaments and sports activities and meeting the beneficiaries.

“What has kept me motivated over the years is seeing the huge difference that we are making to people’s lives, particularly in the case of our Coping Through Football project. The importance of mental health is all over the news and social media now and rightly so, but back in 2006/7 when we started the project it was still very much an overlooked issue. Again, we were at the vanguard of delivery, providing adults and young people experiencing mental health problems with access not just to football sessions but to recovery services. The project has helped to transform community mental health by providing a service with a difference. During the recent lockdown period we have seen how important these sessions have become to people’s lives, with participants desperate to get back to their regular routine of exercising and meeting others.

“I am very lucky that I have had the same group of Head Office staff around me for a number of years and I enjoy the opportunities we have to work together on events such as ground openings, project launches and our fundraising evenings.  There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that we have delivered a successful event which has been enjoyable for our guests. Along with our groundstaff and trustees we have a great team who all care passionately about improving lives through sport.

“In 2020, COVID-19 has proved a challenge for us but also an inspiration as we seek to expand Green Hearts and Coping Through Football and deliver new fundraising events, so I know that the year ahead will be exciting (although perhaps not as much as my first).”