Manchester United Foundation works in partnership with 29 high schools, with Central Academy being the first and only partner school outside Greater Manchester. Each school benefits from the presence of a full-time Foundation coach, who works with the students, feeder primary schools and within the local community to build lasting relationships.
The unique partnership with Central Academy incorporates activity from Carlisle United Community Sports Trust, which also has a full-time partnership based in the academy, and receives funding and support from Riverside Housing Association.
The partnership commenced in January 2020, but due to Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions this is the first time the school and Manchester United Foundation have been able to showcase the provision over the past 20 months, and Denis was delighted to be invited.
Denis said: “I’ve really enjoyed coming here today, meeting and spending time the kids while also hearing about the great work that the Foundation does with them. Coming out of the pandemic, the opportunities we can provide will be crucial to their development.”
During the visit, the former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland defender enjoyed dropping into some lessons, including an English class and a PE session where he couldn’t resist having a kickabout with the Year 8 pupils.
Student Ella told us that Denis’ visit caused excitement across the school: “The energy in school today was great; I play football and play in defence like Denis did, so to get his advice was really good.
“Since the Foundation came to our school, I’ve had the opportunity to go to a game at Old Trafford, visit the training ground and have a tour of the stadium – it’s been amazing. In school, we are offered so much support; it really has changed the school for the better.”
The core objectives of the partnership with Central Academy, as delivered by Foundation partnership officer Jessica Nelson, centre around mentoring, leadership, personal development and extracurricular activities, with a big emphasis on girls’ football. Pupils have also benefitted from the link to Manchester United and the Foundation, with invitations to Old Trafford and the first-team training ground, plus match tickets an opportunity to play on the Old Trafford pitch.
“I have been working at the school since January 2020, and following a tough year-and-a-half, it’s been great to have Denis at school today to allow us to showcase the important work we’ve been doing,” Jess said.
“I was a student at this school myself and there was nothing like this when I was here, so to come back and lead a project that is aimed at driving success among young people, using the amazing opportunities that Manchester United Foundation can provide, is incredible.”
Following the kick about, Denis took part in an assembly hosted by principal Dan Markham and a Q&A session with the whole school, sharing stories from his illustrious Manchester United career and giving the children advice.
“Our ambition is to broaden horizons and create lifelong memories and this is what today has been about,” Dan said. “Hosting a true legend in Denis Irwin has been such a highlight and it was great to hear him talk to the students about how he explored an academic career before embarking on one in football, demonstrating that it is worth trying different things in order to find their path.
“Since the Foundation came in, we’ve discovered that it’s something we can’t do without. We’re committed to delivering an all-round learning experience and through our partnership with Manchester United Foundation, Carlisle United Trust and Riverside Housing Association, it gives the students an extra insight into what the world is about.”
This sentiment was echoed by Denis Irwin, who looked forward to seeing the results of the partnership in the years to come:
“I’m really familiar with the work the Foundation does in Greater Manchester partner schools, so it’s great to see us branching out and providing these incredible opportunities for young people a little further afield. The facilities here are great and I know that Jess is leading the project very well, so I have no doubt that this partnership will go from strength to strength.”