Welling United welcomed children from the Aspire Academy to Park View Road to help cheer on the Wings to a 3-2 victory over Ebbsfleet United on Saturday.
Aspire Academy is a specialist provision based in Bexley for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. Pupils, along with staff from the school, were invited to the match as the club’s special guests as part of the Wings’ community programme in conjunction with McDonald’s in Welling & Bexleyheath.
Sat in the McDonald’s Community Stand, the children enjoyed the game before meeting players to take photos and get autographs as they celebrated the win over champions Ebbsfleet.
“They are all children who have been in mainstream primary schools, but it hasn’t worked out for them,” explained Natalie Sullivan-Smith of Aspire Academy.
“When they come to us, they have low self-esteem and they struggle to fit into the typical day that mainstream schools offer.
“We offer much smaller class sizes and tailor the curriculum to their interests and needs. We work very closely with them about developing their resilience skills and one of the best ways to do that is through sport.”
“Lots of the children love football which is why we made contact with the club,” she continued.
“They’re so interested and obsessed with football so it’s a great way to teach them about turn taking, working together as a team, celebrating together and losing together and that really is why football is so important to our school.
“With Welling United being our local team, I reached out to the club and asked if we could come down to look at the stadium and Paul [Whitehead] very kindly offered for us all to come with our families for a match and to meet the players.”
Wings Chairman, Paul Whitehead, added: “It’s so important for use to help and support initiatives like Aspire Academy and it was an absolute pleasure to have them there on Saturday – they even gave us a bit of luck on the pitch!
“As a community club, we want to be there for those children, so we’re so pleased to be able to give them a day out that they could remember and we are grateful for the support that McDonald’s have given us to be able to do that.”
Reflecting on the day, Natalie continued: “It was the best experience. So many of the children had never been to a real football match before and they feel on such a high from that.
“It was really lovely. They were absolutely buzzing on Saturday afternoon and they came in on Monday still talking about it. For us to have shared that experience, it’s one that the children will remember for such a long time.
“Our football team had a match on Monday evening and it was the first time in a very long time that we actually won, so they must have been inspired!
“We’ve already been invited back to the last Women’s team game of the season and we’re really looking forward to that.
“We’ll be there to cheer on Welling and it’s something that the children and the staff absolutely loved so we all want to become more involved in the club.”
Welling United’s Community Initiative was launched this season thanks to the Welling & Bexleyheath branches of McDonald’s and has seen more than 1,000 children come through the doors at Park View Road to give them the opportunity to watch football and support the Wings.
The initiative will continue to help local charities, schools, amateur sports clubs and community projects and is aimed at engaging those organisations with the club to provide free tickets for matches.