Goals4Girls development programme founder Francesca Brown is the latest inspirational woman to feature on the game changers podcast. In a fascinating interview, Brown discusses how she established a scheme that is ensuring sport has a long lasting positive impact.
Alongside her position as the founder of the award-winning Goals4Girls development programme, Brown is a Prince’s Trust Ambassador. She also received the Young Achievers Pride of Britain Award in 2016 for her success in empowering young women through sports and education.
Brown had to overcome a number of obstacles to get to where she is today, however. A difficult family environment left her struggling with mental health issues when she was younger.
“In today's society, I spoke about a lot more, but when I was growing up, it wasn't kind of, it was more of a taboo subject,” she explained. “It wasn't something which someone would sit down and start having this discussion with. And I just thought it was that transition through childhood into your teenage years, that this is just normal.
"It wasn't till I got older, that I realised that all the issues and barriers I was facing growing up, for example, my dad wasn't around from a certain age. And I was at my mum's house, where I had a very sticky relationship with her. And then the fact that obviously I was then with my grandparents from a very young age, and then just that transition of just becoming a young woman in itself, and the fact that when you're a young woman, you generally sometimes don't know who to turn to, or to speak about things like periods or relationship issues, or friendship issues, or just your general body issues."
Brown continued: “So for me, I kind of enclosed that all within and through doing so, I led myself for a very dark hole, where it was very difficult then to get out of. And from, I think it was the age of, it was 15, I tried to take my own life. And that was just a little, because of the fact of me not understanding what I was going through and the fact that I didn't speak to anybody about it."
It wasn't until I went through therapy, I actually realised what I was going through and what the triggers were for me, going through these things and what I have to avoid to stop me from kind of relapsing into this mental block.
Brown, who took part in athletics and football as a youngster, credited sport with saving her life, revealing it kept her “focused”.
“I think if I didn't have sport, I would have gone through, I probably wouldn't be here today, to be honest,” she said.
At 18-years-old, Brown set off to London for a fresh start, with just £10 in her pocket.
“I was traveling back and forth anyway to London and I woke up on my 18th birthday and I said, right, that's it, I'm going, literally,” she recalled. “One of my friends at the time was visiting Manchester. And I was like, ‘Do you mind if I just put all my stuff in your car and just come back?’ And they're like, ‘Alright then.’
"I'm literally with £10 in my pocket, I got up and left Manchester and I didn't want to break my nan's heart. So I kind of waited until she was away on the caravans. And I just said, right, this is the only way I'm going to be able to leave without her, without me turning around and being really upset that I'm leaving her.”
“It was a really difficult time for me. I was couch surfing and I didn't have anywhere to stay. I was basically homeless at the time. And I was really lucky that my friends would put me up for a certain amount of time. And I kind of would rotate that between each one of them. Until I could find my feet, really, and that's basically what happened. But I did feel that London was the place of opportunity.”
Brown began working as a fundraiser, before moving into a role as a deputy manager for a fundraising agency in Enfield. She then started training to become a youth practitioner, completing diplomas in youth work. Brown’s time in local community centres inspired her to create Goals4Girls.
“This local community centre in Canning Town, East London, there were about seven girls who came in and they were saying, the boys get everything,” Brown explained. “We get nothing. What are you going to do about it, basically? And then I was like, okay. And then we got them down. We sat them down in a round table and we said, look, what would you want your community to offer you? And what would engage you?
“Through that, they were able to brainstorm everything that they wanted from their local community. And this was things around their insecurities around body image, social media, relationships, confidence, barriers, access in sports, all the things which we're trying to combat right now, these girls were talking about it 10 years ago.”
Goals4Girls has now grown from strength to strength. It is now a multi award-winning development programme, which has worked with more than 300 young women and collaborated with organisations such as London Youth, Sports England, Prince’s Trust, The FA, WeAreTheCity & Tottenham Hotspur Women.
Brown highlighted what she felt were the ingredients behind the organisation’s success.
“I feel what makes us stand apart from a lot of other organisations out there, is the fact that for one, we combine sports with education,” she said. “For two, we are a female led organisation. So everyone on the forefront of the organisation, who delivers, is female.
“We do this on purpose to break down social-cultural barriers for young women and girls. We found in the early days of forming Goals4Girls that especially working within East London, where there's basically a diversity of so many cultures, we found that a lot of parents were not happy to have a male coach, coaching their child at that time. So what we found that we had to do was break down this barrier, to ensure that we could deliver all the other areas and have a long-lasting impact on the young people we work with, and the only way we could do that is by having a female led organisation and representation for us is key.
If she can see it, she can believe it. And if she believes it, she can break down the barriers.
"So from the minute they step foot in their mentoring classroom, or the minutes they step foot on the pitch, they see someone who represents them. They see somebody they can aspire to be like and aspire to kind of understand that there is a place for you within society, within sports, or even outside the sports, within that, for example, being a mental role, understanding these different roles in society, you can take on as a woman.”
As the interview came to an end, Brown was asked what advice she would give a 14-year-old going through a challenging time.
“I'd tell them to embrace the experience. And the only reason why I say that is because it's making you into the woman you need to become in life. I don't think without the experiences I went through, that I would be the woman I am today. I'd be able to give the knowledge I can give today. I'll be able to bring my children up the way I bring my children up, today. Be the best partner I can be today. Run the business I run today.
"Don't run away from this experience. Don't run away from this period in time, where you'll find it challenging. Embrace it. Because you will learn a lot from it if you do embrace it.”
This article was produced in partnership with the game changers podcast, which is supported by Barclays. You can listen to the full episode with Francesca Brown here.News Now - Sport News