Samir Singh: Arsenal in the Community

11 Jun

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  How well do you know what Arsenal does – besides the beautiful game of course? Samir Singh, better known as Sami, has lived in Islington all his life and already had two dream jobs – one at Islington Museum and the next at Arsenal. Here he talks about what the Arsenal badge on his work uniform means to him – and the community.  Interview by Nicola Baird

 

"My favourite xx

“My favourite, favourite place is the old stadium,” says Samir Singh from Arsenal in the Community. Photo taken on top floor of Arsenal’s Highbury House.

Samir Singh grew up in the flat above the post office his dad ran on Green Lanes, near Newington Green. “Mum was a primary school teacher and we’d go to the schools she was working in (Sami went to Thornhill and his sisters to Highbury Quadrant). She was never my class teacher though,” he explains. He owes his mum big time as her coaching secured him a scholarship to Westminster. And then he went on to Oxford University to read Classics.

Like so many kids growing up in Islington, Sami is a huge Arsenal fan. He’s had a season ticket ever since 1996 when “I got my first paper round.” Now 32 (and a half) he spends the days working on Arsenal in the Community projects and evenings absorbing London history.

 “I’ve only had two jobs – first at Islington Museum and then Arsenal Museum. I’m lucky, but I’ve sort of engineered it. I want to live and work locally.”


Samir Sing from Arsenal in the Community: “I’ve only had two jobs – first at Islington Museum and then Arsenal Museum. I’m lucky, but I’ve sort of engineered it. I want to live and work locally.”

“I’m a bit of a London geek. There are a lot of lectures about London but the courses are in the daytime for unemployed or retired people – I know what I’ll do when I have more time,” says Sami. He likes “chatting to the old boys who have good stories,” but he’s curious why there are so few people from London who are passionate about London’s history.

“Growing up in London shapes you,” he suggests, “but when you come here as an adult you can shape it. It’s the same with Arsenal fans. If you come from Islington it doesn’t make you a bigger fan. But locals say, ‘yes it does’. I’m not criticising, I try to get my head around it in terms of local history. I need to look at maps, I need to see how London fits. But none of my friends do…. And they all grew up in Islington and Hackney.”

On the self-guided stadium tour you’ll see the Arsenal time capsule. “I don’t understand why people like it so much,” says Samir Singh – possibly because he’s a huge fan of London’s history and as he walks around is constantly unpeeling the time layers. Walking with him through Highbury Fields you can smell the horses, see the Georgians building their lovely homes, watch the gas lights flicker, worry with one-time resident Joseph Chamberlain about the Irish Question and then pop back into 2014 as a friend waves hello on the way to the tube.

On the self-guided stadium tour you’ll see the Arsenal time capsule. Samir Singh is a huge fan of London’s history and as he walks around is constantly un-peeling the time layers. Walking with him through Highbury Fields you can smell the horses, see the Georgians building their lovely homes, watch the gas lights flicker and then pop back into 2014 as a friend waves hello on the way to the tube.

“A lot of people in Islington don’t realise what Arsenal do, or has done over the past 28 years,” says Sami. Indeed since the programme started in the early 1980s more than 1 million people have been involved in an activity and more than 5.5 million hours of time have been clocked up by the club on community work.

During term time in 2013 in Islington alone (the scheme is also in Camden, Hackney, Hertsmere and abroad) Arsenal in the Community delivered regular projects at:

  • 70 different venues (8 secondary schools, 20 primary schools, 12, community centres, 11 estates, 5 parks, 4 Pru’s, 2 libraries, 2 further education colleges as well as London Metropolitan University, Pentonville Prison, Sobell Leisure Centre, Medical Foundation, The Arsenal Red Zone adult learning centre and almost daily community events at Emirates Stadium).
  • That’s 195 regular sessions per week and 205 hours per week.
  • 1,473 participants in the borough regularly (ie, almost weekly) take part in schemes with Arsenal in the Community.
  • Arsenal in the Community also delivers and takes part in numerous one-off community activities at all the above venues throughout the year. The programme is different during the school holidays although our social inclusion/youth work schemes continue across the estates and parks.

“It’s not just that we try to be good neighbours; this badge,” he says pointing to the logo on his red shirt worn by the 17 full-time Arsenal in the Community staff, “gets local people into education and training.”

Samir Singh: “I don’t think many football clubs do local history walks.” The one I joined on 26 March had 14 participants. At the debrief the praise was unanimous – “it was an adventure”, “helped me see the history of the area”.

Samir Singh: “I don’t think many football clubs do local history walks.” The one islingtonfaces joined on 26 March had 14 participants. At the debrief the praise was unanimous – “it was an adventure”, “helped me see the history of the area”.

Most years around 2,000 people are regularly involved in an Arsenal in the Community activity – like Friday night football for youngsters or a Monday morning game for people with mental health issues.

“People will come and play football twice a week, and with our partners we’ll offer wrap around services like healthy eating or links to jobs – it’s directed learning and it keeps the peace. Imagine if Arsenal youth workers weren’t there on the estates or the astro pitches then the big kids would take over and gangs move in,” explains Sami.  “We say we don’t care about the football, but the people who join our programmes do and they listen to our workers in ways they won’t listen to their families or doctors or wives – if we say they should, they’ll go to sexual health clinics or domestic violence workshops: they trust us. Or we’ll talk to the Key Stage 2 and 3 kids (aged 10-14 years old) about our healthy living and cookery programme. It’s good they know that Jack Wilshere eats broccoli.”

They trust us because of the badge
Arsenal FC is one of the biggest employers in the borough. Thanks to Arsenal’s employability programme every matchday at least 120 staff are used who have been on unemployment programmes. The club also offers gap year sports coaching (some of it overseas) and football coach training.

“Arsenal has developed like Islington,’ says Sami pointing out former player hero Charlie George walking into the Emirates stadium. “in the ’70s there were loads of Irish players. Now it’s international. Arsenal is a microcosm of Islington.”

xx

Samir Singh during his local history work for Arsenal in the Community: “I feel a little bit sad for coal holes. People don’t notice them, they walk on them! I like the way they are always local – coal holes in Highbury may have been made by ironmongers in Essex Road. This one on Avenell Road probably has a spelling mistake – it should say Stroud Green.” (PHOTO)

Sami’s tips on what to enjoy in Islington

  • I’m slightly obsessed with Regent’s Canal. I’d like my ashes thrown into the canal at Camden, they’ll then go through Islington and Hackney, where I’m from, and then out to the Thames…
  • Do you know Barnsbury Woods? Lovely.
  • In 2002 I cycled around the borough taking photographs of ghost signs – the old Victorian signs. Most of those have gone now.
  • I feel a little bit sad for coal holes. People don’t notice them, they walk on them! I like the way they are always local – coal holes in Highbury may have been made by ironmongers in Essex Road. This one on Avenell Road probably has a spelling mistake – it’s Shroud Green but should say Stroud Green.” (see photo)
  • I like to go to Nag’s Head market and count how many languages I can hear.

Few of us manage to find our perfect job so close to where we live – but for Islington’s Gunners’ fans there is a much higher chance. Clearly Sami lucked out with the opportunity to create Arsenal’s museum, but the reason he keeps on enjoying his work is because of the way he can segue the fascinating history of the area with its residents’ immediate needs. Whether you need a walk, a numeracy lesson, some IT help or something for bored teenagers you can be sure Arsenal in the Community will have something to offer – and a lot of that is thanks to Sami and his team.

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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One Response to “Samir Singh: Arsenal in the Community”

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  1. Laurie Cunningham: football from Market Road to Real Madrid | Islington Faces Blog - January 6, 2016

    […] Samir Singh, Arsenal in the community […]

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