Published 05 December 2021 4 min read

Joining Hashtag United to celebrate International Volunteer Day

Written by:

Frank Smith

With 5 December marking International Volunteer Day, we travel to Essex-based Hashtag United to hear from many of those providing grassroots football to youngsters in their area

Today marks International Volunteer Day so England Football decided to visit one of the most talked about grassroots football clubs around.

Essex-based Hashtag United were set up five years ago by YouTuber Spencer Owen, initially playing exhibition matches where highlights were uploaded to the social media platform.

By 2018 the club had joined the non-league football pyramid and after two mergers, the club can now boast a men’s team playing in the Isthmian League North Division, a side in the FA Women’s National League and 40 boys’ and girls’ teams, with around 400 kids ranging from three years old to under-18 level.

None of this would be possible without their army of volunteers, one of which is Hashtag co-chairman Derrick Pearson, who was president of Forest Glade, the well-established grassroots club which merged with United in 2020.

Person said: “There are a lot of people in the world who say we do not do enough for our younger generation but to bring them out and it doesn’t matter if it is cold and windy, you can see the enthusiasm on their faces.

“Then after the football, they will go in for their burger or sausage roll afterwards and to see them enjoy themselves is an absolute pleasure for all of us.”

Like most grassroots clubs, a large proportion of Hashtag’s volunteers are parents of children who play for the club.

One of those is the director of youth football, Mark Skipp.

Hashtag United founder Spencer Owen lifting the Wembley Cup for his side in 2017
Hashtag United founder Spencer Owen lifting the Wembley Cup for his side in 2017

He said: “I came into the club as a dad and when I saw what the other guys were doing, like Derrick who was chairman of Forest Glade at the time, I wanted to give back to the community as well and the more I have got involved, I am absolutely loving it.

“I want us to become even more of a community club and help out everyone in the community and make sure we are giving back to the children and the coaches of the club.”

He continued: “It is so rewarding to see the development of the children at the club and see them come here, not having kicked a ball before and see the smiles on their faces, to the point where they progress through the club.

“We are trying to create a pathway through the club now. We are able to offer them EJA football so we are trying to create a pathway for all. 

“It has to be football for everyone but we want to try to encourage that full pathway, with the opportunity to get to the first team if it is possible.”

The community nature of grassroots football clubs is not only felt by the children who play football but also the parents.

03 Dec 2021 16:20

Hashtag volunteers | In The Box

Tom's back on the road for #NationalVolunteersDay so he's at Hashtag United to meet some incredible volunteers

Pearson explained: “When you look at the children at the club, you also shouldn’t underestimate what it does for the parents and their social skills as well.

“I have had parents say to me ‘since we have joined this club, I have become a different person as well and it is not just my children, I have become more sociable as well so thank you to Hashtag United for giving me the opportunity.”

One of the common themes with grassroots football is that young players will often feature for a club growing up and then return further down the line, often when their own children take up the sport.

However, Hashtag are also trying to help youngsters in their coaching development, running Duke of Edinburgh Awards and FA coaching courses at the club.

One young coach who used to play for Hashtag United growing up and has now returned to coach after a spell at university is Dan Wolfendale. 

And he said: “If you want to go and step up and volunteer at a local football club or anywhere, then it is rewarding because you are giving back to someone else.

“Hopefully they have learned something from me from today’s session but if not and they have still had fun then I have done my bit and I feel good about myself.

“It is about spreading positivity as a volunteer. That is the key.”