Growing our athletes to grow their communities - The next chapter of Friendz & Co.

In a challenging year for our athletes and volunteers across GB, we have seen so many overcome obstacles in their attempt to create a more inclusive world for all. From achievements on and off the field of play to large steps taken in living rooms and beyond, it has been incredible to see the drive and determination of our athletes shine through once again.

Last November we featured a story focusing on the incredible work of Friendz & Co, a group of athletes from Lincolnshire determined to make a difference in their community and beyond. Friendz & Co. started their own café at Bottesford Town FC, designed to provide practical work experiences and skills training for individuals with intellectual disabilities who otherwise may not have received them, whilst also serving their local community at football matches and events. Already a successful group with an incredible amount of ambition and passion for everything they do, we have been excited to watch them grow from strength to strength over what has been an incredibly discontinuous year.

After successfully implementing and continuing the work at the café, Friendz & Co. have expanded, and are now the proud owners of the Friendz Farm in Laughton, Lincolnshire; a farm for animals and horticulture that operates under the same premise as the café, which is, to provide learning, leadership, skills training, and practical experiences to individuals with intellectual disabilities within their local community. Like the café, it is those individuals with an intellectual disability who form a large part of the leadership group aiding the future plans and vision for the charity. It really is an organisation built for the people, by the people.

When asked about the lack of personal development opportunities he had prior to Special Olympics and Friendz & Co. Aiden, an athlete and regular volunteer alongside friends Jake, Jamie and Sam said: “It’s annoying because everyone should have a fair chance… before Friendz & Co, I wouldn’t have had the skills to help people but now I can.”

What is unique about Friendz & Co. and the Friendz Farm is that not only do they greatly impact those who they train and work with, they are inherently driven to ensure they are maximising their impact within their local community and beyond. From donating all their produce to local charities as well as providing a home for various animals, to ensuring they are maximising their use of recycled materials, Friendz & Co. continue to strive to do more.

Doing more for other people and helping others has been a constant message over the last 18 months and now more than ever it is vital to ensure our communities are as inclusive as possible. That’s why on this International Day of Charity, we felt it was important to showcase a group of people so dedicated to providing a better life and better opportunities for others.

We were absolutely amazed to find out that Friendz & Co. have a community outreach that extends far further than the work they do internally on the farm and in the café. Recently the team at Friendz & Co. got involved with their local FareShare distribution centre in which members of the group on several days of the week are now volunteering to ensure FareShare are able to succeed in their mission to feed vulnerable people in the UK.

This collaboration has been welcomed by the Warehouse Supervisor who has insisted that their flexible nature and willingness to work to make a difference has made a major impact to the centre: “I can’t speak highly enough of Emily, Jake and Jamie. They arrive at work ready for the day ahead and are conscientious in whatever they are asked to do. In addition to this they bring a great attitude and good humour to the workplace, it is a pleasure to have them all here and I hope that it continues.”

What is extremely impressive is how everything Friendz & Co. does is centred around having their members and the community at the heart of it all. After talking with Jake, Jamie, Sam & Aiden who all volunteer for Friendz & Co. and are also all Special Olympics GB athletes, it was evident to see not only how much they have developed as individuals over the last year, but also how much of a role they each play in the operational collective side of the charity.

Together alongside Sue Parkinson, a major advocate and driving force for change in Lincolnshire and many other supporters, these individuals are playing an integral role across many facets of the business from maintenance to teaching others and from planning to development. It is because of this exposure and these opportunities that these individuals are now serving as role models and mentors to all the other individuals with intellectual disabilities who come to Friendz & Co. Through the independence they have gained, they are now able to pass on their knowledge and experiences to ensure more individuals with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to develop their own skillsets in preparation for any future meaningful employment or volunteering opportunity that may come their way.

With no plans to slow down anytime soon, Jake and Jamie and the rest of the team are excited for what the future holds for them as individuals but also for the group and the impact they can continue to make in their community. Having the courage to start is the key but what is more important is enjoying what you do and why you do it. Jamie said, “be happy, work hard and make a difference”. A line very fitting to the purpose of International Day of Charity and the very same values Friendz & Co. display every day.

An amazing journey so far and one in which we are sure will only continue to inspire others to make a difference in their own communities. Thank you Friendz & Co. for showcasing the power of teamwork and opportunity.