‘Fancy A Chat’: An initiative by the Cardiff Medics Football Team

Their task was to chat with those sleeping rough in Cardiff

Fancy A Chat is an initiative put together by members of the Cardiff Medics Football Team and revolves around the fact that a conversation with a rough-sleeper can have a positive impact on their day.

The Tab Cardiff spoke to the Welfare Secretary, Christopher Mahy, and the Charity Secretary, Elliot King, to talk about the initiative and what it means to them as students but also as members of the public.

The idea is ‘focused on having a conversation’

“We have a responsibility and power as a football club to step out and help the community. As the Welfare Secretary, I wanted to do something that not only benefitted the welfare of the players in the club but also the welfare of the people in our community. Elliot and I both felt very passionately about homelessness in Cardiff. It is a powerful issue for me, something I don’t fully understand but certainly something we both really care about,” Christopher said.

Elliot added: “Charity and welfare are two very complimentary roles. Chris and I, simply started having a conversation about what we can give back to the community, particularly the homeless community in Cardiff. It was Chris’ idea initially, that focused on having a conversation because that’s not something we need to raise an x amount of money for. We can simply do it with however many people at any given time.”

Christopher also said: “He is underselling his role. Elliot is a big driver and part of the project. The main reason we wanted it to be about communication and not so much about a big fundraiser was because we wanted to do it for the humanity of it, to foster a connection between people, members of the club and also between the club and the community, trying to extend solidarity to that group of people in the population that are often overlooked and isolated”. 

It’s important because ‘one of the biggest things you can give a homeless person is just your time of the day’

Explaining how Fancy A Chat was a simple initiative and didn’t involve “a huge fundraiser with loads of steps and advertising”, Elliot said: “What we were trying to inspire, at the surface level is our club members but more widely people who are seeing us doing this. To just take that minute to humanise the homeless people around. Just take a minute to acknowledge them, have a  chat. It was simply about showing people that one of the biggest things you can give a homeless person is just your time of the day.”

How many members participated?

“There were fourteen of us on the night,” Elliot said. 

“Beyond the fourteen, we had other people from the club helping out, donating clothes and we also reached out to the wider community in Cardiff and had some donations there. Although it was a club driven initiative, the people who contributed extends past the people who were involved during the night”.

“They [Atma Lounge] really helped this come together and wanted nothing in return.”

The Atma Lounge provided free vegan meals to the needy and volunteered to provide free hotboxes for distribution on the day. 

‘We can only look at it as a massive success’

Elliot said: “I think it was received very well. There was a minority of people who didn’t want to engage, almost everyone was very keen and wanted to talk, have a hot soup, a hot drink and there were few people who even stayed back for an extended period of time, just having a talk with all of us. With our initial goal just being to start these conversations, we can only look at it as a massive success.”  

Christopher also spoke about the “stigma in approaching rough-sleepers”, saying: “People feel a sense of shame in approaching rough-sleepers and don’t realise the dehumanising effect that ignoring somebody on the street has. What costs absolutely nothing is just asking someone how they are, how their day is going. Just smiling at them, acknowledging that they are there. At the end of the day, they are humans as well.”

Tell us something that you’ve learned through this initiative?

They said: “A lot of rough sleepers save up for hotels instead of using the hostels that are set up for them because it is so unsafe, a lot of drug use and abuse. Especially for people trying to get clean on the streets. It is not a welcoming service. So a lot of people save up to go to these hotels instead.”

Christopher also said: “What was most obvious was how appreciative they were. Some of the people we spoke to were clearly moved and one of them was brought to tears since it had been so long since they had that connection with someone. What I learned personally is that to do something worthwhile is not as hard as you think. You can have a real positive impact on your community with a little hard work and a little determination. There’s strength in numbers so as a football club we were in a privileged position where a lot of people were ready to use the bonds that we have as a football club to a make a difference in our society.”

Elliot further added: “It really is as simple as acknowledging them, having a conversation if you’ve got the time. It really doesn’t take much out of your day, it’s just about taking those few seconds, having a human conversation like you would with anyone else.” 

Christopher touched upon how it can be difficult to appreciate the difference a mere conversation can make on a rough sleeper, saying: “When you’re not being spoken to or interacted with and you’re made to feel isolated and like a different part of society that can really change your day, change your week. And if it keeps happening, more and more people break down the stigma of approaching or interacting with people who are rough sleeping it can hopefully be a driver for change.” 

‘The goal isn’t achieved until homelessness is eradicated’

Elliot said: “It may be a touch idealistic but in my opinion as long as there is a rough sleeper there are too many rough-sleepers and saying that doesn’t solve the issue. But what this has really taught me is that, yes, there are shelters but they are simply not adequate in terms of numbers, well-being, safety, long term support. It clearly isn’t enough or working in the way they envisioned”.

On talking about the 10-year Welsh strategy to assist and support rough-sleepers and eradicate homelessness, Christopher said, “The goal isn’t achieved until homelessness is eradicated. The Welsh government does take it seriously but it’s about making these services as optimum as possible. Regardless of what the government is doing, you yourself can make a difference to the problem, in the smallest way, by talking.”

What can we do to participate?

Even though this project is now finished, the boys seemed determined to  carry out similar projects.

Christopher said: “We aim to organise more projects like this maybe something similar or working with a different group within the community. Apart from that, take the principles that we’ve tried to push through this event and champion them in your day to day lives.” 

Elliot further added: “The biggest thing isn’t what we achieved on our night running this event but the changes that happened in my daily life and a few other boys who got involved – it is taking the time to acknowledge a rough sleeper, not ignoring them and taking two minutes to have a quick chat. If every person did that, we would be a much better place.”

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