By Tony Dewhurst
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has praised the inspiring work of The Football League Trust and the way it has helped change people's lives through the power of football.
Bercow was the guest speaker at The FL Trust's annual conference, held at the 2012 Grassroots Football Show at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, and was so impressed by their work he has invited a working party to The Houses of Parliament to speak about The Trust's role in the community.
"The Football League Trust is an amazing project, and what really caught my imagination about their work is the way they have engaged so successfully with some of the young people who have become disaffected and disengaged from society - they are breaking down barriers, " said Bercow.
"Their community schemes, through sport, education, inclusion and health, have lit up people's lives and The Football League Trust is doing fantastic work, promoting sport with good citizenship.
"They have given countless youngsters across the country, who may have felt discontented or de-motivated, a chance to shine and that is a thoroughly positive thing."
Bercow heard how over the past 12 months these projects have engaged with over 1.3 million people of all ages, in projects ranging from sport for children, employment skills for the homeless, drug rehabilitation and estate based projects to reduce anti-social behaviour.
Bercow, who spoke about how football charities can engage with parliament and get more involved with the political agenda, added: "I'm very conscious that sport is a huge driver of better health and through The Football League Trust's activities, it can help tackle growing obesity and poor health by encouraging young people to get involved in sport through their community football club.
"It shows what a positive alternative sport can be, instead of couch potatoes sat at home playing computer games they can be out there doing the real games.
"The chance to play at their community club often gives them the opportunity to meet their sporting heroes and many hundreds of youngsters have grabbed that chance with both hands.
"Just think what a difference and how much excitement and happiness that injects into the life of a disadvantaged young person.
"To meet a great football coach or manager, for example, and that's a light in their lives that will never be switched off.
"That's why I believe that The Football League Trust is a very worthwhile and ambitious project, and a very good example of the partnership between the world of sport, education and linking local communities."
He added: "I want to foster links with The Football League Trust in the future, because the work that they are doing is invaluable."
Mike Evans, The Football League Trust General Manager, told the conference that the last 12 months had seen The Trust work tirelessly to develop new and existing partnerships that would help take the organisation to the next level.
Evans said: "For the past four years The Trust has been very bold in its claims and established a good track record to back that up. There has however been a tendency to operate in isolation at times and maybe an overemphasis on achieving independence at the expense of forming closer relationships with our partners.
"We remain extremely bullish about our services and know that we can deliver successfully on any number of key government agendas using 'The Power of Football' to engage - particularly with young people. But our theme for today is 'The Power of Partnerships'. Without those partnerships, quite simply, we will not achieve our goals."
The Football League Trust Chairman John Nixon opened the conference and stressed about the power of partnerships, later hearing from youngsters Keiran Burnett and David Pudney from AFC Bournemouth, and their positive experience of the National Citizen Service.
The Senior Vice President of American Express, Michael Edwards, explained how a large commercial organisation has worked in partnership with Brighton and Hove Albion in the Community, and has delivered a new stadium that has embraced the whole city.
One of The Football League Trust's main partners is npower, who have invested over £2.5 million into the 72 community schemes and their Managing Director of Customer Markets Giuseppe Di Vita explained what the power of partnership meant to npower.
Peter Ackerley, Senior Development Manager with The Football Association, also addressed the audience of Community staff about the growing links with The Trust.
Clarke Carlisle, the Chairman of The Professional Footballer's Association, who closed the conference, said: "Football in the Community has gone from strength to strength - it has changed the image of the game."