Pioneers Post

The football star with big social goals

17 August 2012
photo of Kelly Davies running with the Olympic torch

Former professional footballer and Vi-Ability managing director Kelly Davies recently had the honor of carrying the Olympic torch into the Parc Eirias stadium in Colwyn Bay as part of the torch relay, amid cheers from thousands of schoolchildren.

Fast facts:

What does Vi-Ability do?

  1. Work-based football Industry training programmes for economically inactive individuals
  2. Supported employment within a variety of industries
  3. Accredited Qualifications (eg BTEC, NVQ)
  4. Assistance in setting up of ‘FootbalI In The Community’ projects
  5. Fundraising and commercial advice for football clubs

What makes Vi-Ability unique?

  • No other approach introduces individuals to the commercial management of football clubs and provides ‘hands on, practical experience’.
  • Vi-Ability has written a BTEC In Football Industries, with exclusive rights in 30 countries. 

What has the business achieved?

  • From a first year turnover of £83,000 to a turnover of £350,000 and projected profit of £60-£80k
  • From two full time staff to seven full time, five part-time and two self employed consultants
  • On the programmes run for 16-plus year olds they have a 0% drop out rate, 95% leave with at least three recognised qualifications, and 81% progress into employment, training or volunteering

What are the business and social goals?

  • To demonstrate how football can be used to bring about positive changes within the lives of individuals and communities.
  • To tackle economic inactivity, youth disengagement and financially unstable football clubs.
  • ‘For every community to have a thriving and financially stable football club at its heart - providing opportunities for individuals to develop their skills and broaden their horizons.’
  • To convince key strategic members of a football club that the long-term investment in improving the business is not a luxury afforded only by rich clubs.

'Just do it,' advises ex-international footballer Kelly Davies reflecting on her journey from award-winning start-up to social enterprise success with football clubs in four countries

Like millions of people the world over, I have been glued to the Olympics. I love sport, especially football. I went to Wembley to watch the women’s GB team play in the Games a few weeks ago and as an ex-professional female footballer, to see so many people cheering on the ladies was nothing less than fantastic.

Sadly my own professional playing days are over, but football is still at the heart of my working life – if not whole life! I started Vi-ability at the end of 2009 – we’re a social enterprise that supports young people, providing training, skills, qualifications and work placements – all centred around the commercial management of football clubs.

We started last year with just one full-time member of staff – we now have 14, and our turnover has trebled. It was a good year for so many reasons, from winning contracts to securing funding, and awareness of Vi-ability just grew and grew.  Winning the social enterprise ‘start up of the year award’ in 2011 gave us such a boost, both externally in giving us credibility, but also internally – it spurred us on to achieve more. 

Personally, I’ve received some invaluable wisdom from Matt Stevenson-Dodd, CEO of Streetleague (ultra successful, Downing Street endorsed social enterprise). I’ve found our sector incredibly supportive and collaborative, and we work in partnership with other social enterprises, most recently Winning Ways who are based in Birmingham. Together our teams built a new and innovative approach to personal development, which now runs through all their programmes and we’ve adopted it too. At Vi-ability we’re big fans of learning from others and sharing good practice. It’s also good for business to develop strong networks.

It’s safe to say that we’ve moved out of our start-up phase and in some ways the job is more challenging. It may sound strange but there are too many opportunities, at least too many for us to act on. We know we’ve got a model that works and delivers outcomes, but investment is needed to take Vi-ability to the next level. Roll on Big Society Capital.

We’re focused on replicating what we do across the UK and Europe. A year ago we were running programmes in two football clubs in Wales – now we’re in eight, in England, Sweden, Spain and Italy. And last week we learned that we’ve won a large contract to deliver programmes that will provide over twenty 16-24 year olds with six months’ paid work within the football industry, involving another six clubs. 

On the programmes we run for 16-plus year olds we have a 0% drop out rate, 95% leave with at least three recognised qualifications, and 81% progress into employment, training or volunteering. We organise residential trips and international exchanges, and for many it’s the first time they’ve been away from home. They return motivated, and with a belief that they’ve got some control over their lives. Alongside gaining practical life skills and the learning, it’s equally important that people walk away from us with greater sense of self worth and confidence.

As well as supporting young people directly we work with non-league football clubs to help them generate income, expand their range of activities and reach out to their local communities.  Football is an accessible sport and we recently joined forces with Conwy Council Disability Sports Team to deliver fun football sessions for young adults with a disability. It was so popular that we’ve already formed an under 12’s disability team and are planning to enter the teams into competitions.

In 2011 we engaged 11,000 people through our various activities. We hope to beat that number by the end of this year. Working in partnership with local authorities, local businesses, likeminded social enterprises – and with some pots of funding – we’ve been able to make a sizeable impact on communities, helping to address social issues such as anti-social behaviour, poor physical and mental health, unemployment and poor educational attainment.

My advice to anybody seriously thinking about starting a social enterprise would be, in the words of a very well known sports brand, ‘Just do it’. I’m afraid the clichés are true – it’s rewarding, completely addictive, and the best thing I ever did.


Kelly Davies is founder of Vi-ability and an ex-Arsenal and Liverpool Ladies footballer, with 36 caps for Wales.

The Social Enterprise Awards are open for entries until 26 August.