EAST Lothian MSP Iain Gray has taken up a new challenge as chairman of the Hibernian Community Foundation, and hopes to help the charity expand a range of activities which already includes work with pre-school children and people in later life.
Established in 2008 by Scott Lindsay, who was then chief executive of Hibs, the Community Foundation runs some programmes of its own, but is equally willing to play its part in national schemes.
Gray, a lifelong Hibs fan and a former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said: “Scott’s idea was to develop Hibs’ standing in the community, and the first thing we really did was to establish a learning centre at Easter Road. We have a partnership with Edinburgh College, and we run a lot of IT courses.
“The thinking is perhaps a lot of these young people would come and do a course because it is at Easter Road where they wouldn’t do it at college. It’s a way of trying to attract people in.
“We’re also doing some employability courses, funded by the Department of Work and Pensions, to help people into work. We plan to run a hospitality academy with Edinburgh College, so they could give their students work experience at Easter Road. So the whole learning side of the Community Foundation was the start, and since then we’ve added several other strands as well. We now deliver all Hibs’ community coaching – at schools, for under-fives, summer coaching camps, all of these things.
“We also have a homework initiative for primary schools, again trying to use the interest in football to encourage young people to engage with education. And we take part in some national schemes, such as the 12-week fitness course for overweight middle-aged fans.
“One of our most recent initiatives is walking football. That’s for older fans, into the 60s and 70s – it’s a way of playing football which is appropriate for their age. We also support Lothian Hibernian, the learning-disability football team. And we support Hibernian Ladies and Girls. So from where we started with the learning centre, we now have a much broader engagement with the community.”
The post of chairman is unpaid, and there are few formal obligations other than board meetings every two months. But Gray, whose term of office is open-ended, sees the charity’s work as a natural fit with his other interests, and perhaps can expect to become more involved informally.
“It’s quite an exciting prospect to take on,” he said. “The big thing for me is I’ve watched this football team for 50 years, I started watching Hibs because my grandad was from Leith and watched Hibs all his life, and it was very much about being part of the community.
“It’s about the team putting something back into the community that it’s been a part of for so long. It’s a charitable foundation and is not funded by the club, but by different grants. So it’s Hibs, but it’s also things that are important to me. Everything the foundation is doing is in areas that I believe are important, such as helping young people find work. And at the other end of the scale is the demographic change: people are living longer, and we have to find ways of being healthier in later life.
“Lots of clubs are doing this kind of work, and in the past I’ve supported work that Hearts have done – a music programme they did with people in prison, for example.
“I’d like us to get a higher profile, because I think a lot of Hibs fans would be surprised – and pleased – to know we’re doing this work.
“We’ve got our own directors, so it’s connected with the club but has its own separate governance. We have a couple of directors in common so there is a link, but it has separate accounts and so on.”