During the Women’s World Cup, Calderdale Council is highlighting the dynamic women’s and girls’ football and sports community within the region.

In tandem with the impressive female football teams throughout Calderdale that are showcasing local talents, the Healthy Holidays Calderdale initiative is furnishing complimentary access to football and various other sports and recreational activities for young individuals who qualify for free school meals.

Presently in progress, the Healthy Holidays summer program is a collaborative effort involving Calderdale Council, the Community Foundation for Calderdale, and local establishments. The initiative is funded by the government’s Holiday Activities and Food Programme.

In the Park Ward area of Halifax, the Unique Community Hub stands out as a contributor to Healthy Holidays, with a distinctive emphasis on aiding young women from the South Asian demographic to maintain their involvement in physical pursuits beyond school settings.

Toyaba Ali has been overseeing exclusive sessions for girls at the Unique Community Hub for several years. Her current focus involves promoting participation in sports among women and girls through the Empowering Women group. This group provides a secure environment where females of diverse ages and backgrounds can congregate, with the primary objective of nurturing, involving, and empowering them to realise their full potential. Activities encompass a variety of sports, such as football, camping, artistic endeavours, engagement in mental health workshops, and more.

Toyaba says; “For the girls at the Hub, the chance to meet up and be physically active outside of school has been beneficial to their stress levels, and has increased motivation to carry on sports after they’ve moved on from education. Many elders from the community are now reaching out to find out when it’s their turn to give it a go! There’s diversity and so much talent, we just need to expose it.”

Jess Heald works for Calderdale Council as its Healthy Holidays Coordinator, and in her spare time, she plays and coaches football. Jess says; “I started playing football at the age of eight. There were no girls’ football teams around, so I joined the local all-boys team for a season. My dad decided to start up a girls’ under-9s team, which I joined and we won lots of league and cup titles all the way up to age 16. I then progressed into the women’s game and have continued to play ever since.

“I knew I wanted to give the same opportunities to young girls aspiring to have a career in football, so I went into coaching. Following the success of the Lionesses winning the Euros, I now coach 50 girls aged under 11. It’s fantastic to see so many girls wanting to play football. The most rewarding feeling is seeing the players stepping out onto the pitch and having the time of their life whilst forming new friendships.

“Women’s and girls’ football has seen a huge level of growth in recent years and with the right focus, structures and facilities in place, there is every reason to believe that it can continue to grow to match the numbers on the male teams, which would be a huge achievement. To keep filtering those players through and keep inspiring them is amazing. The more girls that play, it’s only going to improve the sport.”

To celebrate the Women’s World Cup, the Council’s Sports Service is running World Cup fun swims. Up until Sunday 20 August 2023, anyone wearing a football shirt on arrival at Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge or Todmorden pools can join a fun swim free of charge.

Brighouse – sessions are running on Sunday 13 and 20 August between 1.15pm and 2.15pm

Sowerby Bridge – sessions are taking place on Wednesday 9 and 16 August from 1.10pm to 2.45pm

Todmorden – sessions are on Thursday 10 and 17 August between 12.30pm and 1.45pm

There is a football shirt colouring competition with free swims as prizes. The Council also held free ‘have a go’ football sessions at Todmorden Sports Centre on Wednesday 2 August, encouraging children aged 5+ to join the football coaching scheme.

Cllr Jenny Lynn, Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Services and Communities, said; “It’s inspiring to see the Women’s World Cup, and women and girls of all ages, levels and backgrounds playing football and getting physically active in Calderdale. There are many great teams across the borough, and our Healthy Holidays scheme adds to these by giving young people the opportunity to take part in sports and build their fitness, confidence and wellbeing.

“Seeing the success of local groups such as Empowering Women is really encouraging, and we back their work to help everyone reach their potential regardless of their starting point – a key part of our Vision 2024 for Calderdale – and to increase diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity, which is in line with the Council’s priority to reduce inequalities.”