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First published in Saturday's match programme, a look at the progress of the club's Community Trust

30 April 2019

We are happy to re-produce this article, first produced in Saturday's match programme.

Back in late 2015 the Northampton Town Football Club Community Trust was in trouble, seriously in debt, in danger of losing its funding and a real problem for club Chairman Kelvin Thomas, newly arrived at the time. 

His dilemma – whether to wind down the Trust, which is a separate entity linked to the football club, or find someone to turn the whole operation around, give it new life and bring it back to profit in a way that benefited the whole local community.

A very special person was needed, Kelvin was determined and his search led him to Warren Irving, at that stage Chief Operating Officer for St. Andrew’s Healthcare. A major question was whether an already busy man would take on such an exacting volunteer role.

“It was Kelvin’s passion to make the Trust work that persuaded me,” stressed Warren when we talked recently. The result is that in three years the Trust has seen a financial turnaround that has put it in profit, hugely increased its scope both in activities and the area it covers, and helped it involve more than 5,000 people in the past year.

Now there has to be more change simply because Warren is facing changes in his own professional circumstances.

Chairman Kelvin has been paying tribute to the way Warren has turned a failing Trust into a remarkable success. “He has done a wonderful job for us,” he said. “It really is a remarkable story.”

That is the story I have been exploring with Warren, a Mancunian supporter of Manchester United who has become a Cobblers’ regular with his family.

“Kelvin and Chief Executive James Whiting came to see me at St.Andrew’s,” he said. “They told me the Trust was failing financially, the structure wasn’t working and those running it were not doing a particularly good job.

“He wanted a new structure and a fresh management team in place, the alternative was to wind it down completely. It really was Kelvin’s passion for the Community Trust to succeed that persuaded me to even consider the project. I took a good look, felt I could save it and we have gone from there.”

In fact Warren has turned the Trust around from top to bottom, at times acting as Chief Executive as well as Chairman, working in his own time outside of his own exacting job. The charity was based in the town centre but was quickly moved into the offices back at Sixfields.

An early step was to make changes to the list of Trustees to bring in people he felt had something to offer. He told me: “Trust members have been coming along each month, listening to what was said and then going away without really being involved in the Trust.

“I gave each member a position within the charity so they all felt they had a responsibility within it.

“We had some work to do with the Football League because they had lost faith in the Trust. Kelvin and I had to persuade them we were worth investing in because otherwise they were going to pull all the funding.

“We spent time with them, informing them of the changes we were making and the commitment we would make for the Trust. As a result they have played their part to ensure we continue to get funding.”

Warren realised the Trust was only reaching out to those living in the area around the club. He developed a strategy to grow out into the county, reach out to more schools, more adults and to bring in fresh activities.

This piece only scratches the surface of what has been achieved. Disability groups were separate but are now within the Trust, walking football teams have been created with great success and a programme developed to tackle the health of the whole county with a weight loss programme.

The Trust is now in 16 schools around the county with plans to include another 25 over the next year and Warren is delighted with the progress with women’s football.

“It is one of our real successes,” he said, "Our women’s team are doing a tremendous job over the last few years and are currently having a great season. On the back of that it has influenced young girls to take up football, so our girls’ teams are growing rapidly.”

Warren was happy to look back on the work that has been done, reshaping and concentrating on building the growth to repay the debt that had existed three years ago.

“We were probably £200,000 in debt when I joined and we are now making about £20,000. It may not seem much but the turnaround is about £220,000. Last year we brought in Phill Smith as our Chief Executive and this year we can see real growth coming along.

“Phil has been a breath of fresh air, very enthusiastic and with some very good networking ties with the FA which have been very helpful.”

Warren has been helping to shape the Trust going forward and is not ruling out taking another role in the future. "I shall still be around," he stressed.

Many things stand out for him during his time rebuilding the Trust, including joining Kelvin and the rest of a Cobblers’ team for the cycle ride from London to Amsterdam last summer raising funds for Prostate Cancer UK.

Perhaps the best moment came when Manchester United were League Cup visitors and he was able to spend time with Bobby Charlton. “One of my great heroes,” he said, "It was great to meet him.”

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