• Lionheart in the Community (LITC) provide employability and health education, alongside football coaching
  • LITC works with disadvantaged communities, including in south-east London
  • Organisation supported by FIFA’s Football for Hope programme

The path from Vince Lee’s home to the Damilola Taylor Centre is one well-trodden. Born and raised in Peckham in south-east London, an area with notoriously high levels of drug-related violent crime, Lee knows these streets like the back of his hand. Now a respected football coach and scout, having worked in the USA and at professional clubs such as Millwall and Chelsea, he is always drawn back to his roots.

Lee is heading to the Damilola Taylor Centre to deliver a Football for Hope coaching session on behalf of Lionheart in the Community (LITC), a charity providing employability training and health education through football. On arrival, Lee is greeted by the children he is set to coach. Many years ago, at this very centre, Lee was one of these kids.

“The Football for Hope session is special to me,” Lee told FIFA.com. “This centre is where I started my career and there are a lot of good case studies who’ve gone on and done their coaching badges. I went abroad and I’ve moved on to different clubs, but it’s always somewhere that I’ve been welcomed back.”

After attending the centre as a youngster, Lee went on to take his first coaching badges there. He now counts a position as LITC’s Head Sports Coach among his multi-faceted CV, and is offering opportunities to youngsters in a similar way, and not just in football.

“What we’re trying to do is engage young people,” Lee said. “We’re raising awareness of HIV and healthy lifestyles, delivering some employability training and giving them some skills for personal development. Football is the vehicle to do that. We’re keeping them out of trouble and offering them a platform to develop.”

Lee started his coaching journey at this very place, in the days before it was called the Damilola Taylor Centre. In 2002, the building was dedicated to the memory of Damilola – a ten-year-old Nigerian schoolboy who was stabbed and killed close to the centre by two teenage brothers in the year 2000. Lee had coached the youngster.

“He’d come along to that session,” Lee said of Damilola. “He didn’t come very often because he’d just come into the country. It was very sad to hear what happened.”

Damilola’s tragic story, albeit close to two decades old, remains a clear indicator of the kind of positive role models required to keep the youngsters raised in the area on the right path. LITC were set up ten years ago at the tail end of the global financial crisis and, with offices based in nearby Brixton, are trying to highlight those positive role models through their Football for Hope sessions and other programmes.

“The word ‘hope’ is a big part of why we do this,” Lionel Foy, Director of LITC, said. “We want to give people that participate in football and sport hope that they can overcome their difficulties or the disadvantaged situations that they find themselves in. We have a lot of young people who come from communities where they don’t have that family structure and we find that participation in team sport helps them to develop these qualities.”

Back at the session, a teenager walks around with a clipboard. Harold is one of Lee’s coaching protégés.

“I’m looking to do more coaching badges,” Harold said. “Because I’ve found something that I’m interested in, I just want to progress and do it for the rest of my life. If I’m applying for positions, I can say that I’ve done some voluntary work. Looking at my CV, it’s beneficial. I want to go abroad and become the best coach I can.”

The influence of Lee on Harold is clear to see, as is the enjoyment shown by the youngsters enjoying the session. A moment of magic on the pitch, aided by those important life lessons taught on the sideline, are a winning combination for the future of children in the area.

“I can easily sum up how important it is to have football in the lives of people around here,” Lee concluded. “I became a father last year. When I was going to get my daughter’s birth certificate, there was a section which said ‘occupation’ and it made me really proud to put ‘football coach’ on there. I owe a large portion of that to the centre and the people who gave me the opportunity there.”

When Lee packs up the balls, bibs and cones at the end of the session, he begins the ten-minute walk back home. The floodlights are flicked off, but - thanks to the work of Lee and LITC - the centre remains a shining beacon of optimism for the area’s youngsters.

This is part of FIFA.com's ongoing series highlighting NGOs that are part of Football for Hope, FIFA’s global initiative to help improve the lives of young people through football.