Paul and Errol

Paul Landucci and Errol Mason
The Benson Community Project 

Benson Community Project is what we are. We put on sports for young children, youths, teenagers and adults too if they want to join in. We are one of the founders of a thing called the ‘open door policy’. All that, in simple layman's terms, is it doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, what you've done, you are welcomed. That's the creation of Benson and I think it is such a beautiful thing. 

We have been running this project since 2012. We started in Handsworth and then the police brought us here to Smethwick in 2015. What we have found during that time is how rich Smethwick is. It's rich in its wealth. It's rich in cultures, it's got transient communities. Its diversity is unbelievably rich. But it also got a lot of poverty and desperation. We have 55 nationalities coming to Benson who all come together.

We get joy and pleasure from seeing these different nationalities coming together and working as a community. We are a community in the community. We don't just do the football. We have times where parents will call us and say, “Well, I'm having a problem with my child doing his homework. Can you have a word with him?” We'll go out, speak to them. So we work as a community and we are working with the community.

We do it for the love it, for the enjoyment. We do it for the enthusiasm, the passion, the warmth, the meeting people, the socialisation, the social interactions. We learn as we go. Nobody truly learns everything. Communities can be very indifferent, and uncompromising at times. But they can come together. What we've got to do is be happy in evolving with them.

It can be hard work. Once we've finished here with the football or badminton or the cycling, it doesn’t finish there. We are still there for the community when they need us. It never stops and it's very hard work. I enjoy what we do and everyone enjoys it. And we always say that we are one of the best teams when we work together.

Volunteers have a passion. They have a warmth. They have an ethos about them where they want to do it. So anybody who wants to do anything in life, whether it's football, cricket, take a maths degree, science or whatever, it doesn’t matter. If you want to do it you put everything you've got into it.  We'll put everything into it. 

When I stop enjoying it, I'll stop doing it and do something different.  My drive to come here is the pleasure of seeing what the kids get out of it and smile. They're willing to come. They're happy. They invite their friends because they can see what it's all about, they are engaging. The enjoyment is there. I've got many offers to go and coach football teams for a lot of money, but I wouldn't get the same joy and enjoyment out of it as what I have got here.

We met when I moved in next to Errol, so we are neighbours. We live in Handsworth, which kind of has a reputation, it can be considered by some as not exactly the best. So we come in from the right background to what we deliver, which is the ‘open-door policy.’ We started we went to a local park and some kids were playing football. The ball got nicked. I walked up and said, “turn up next week, we'll do some football.”We started in Benson Park. Where the name Benson originates from. We went to Benson Park. We turned up, the kids turned up.  The parents thought we were perverts. but we weren't. Errol had some balls in the back of the car. He has been a scout for football clubs for forty years. Forty years of experience right there. 

So we started off as a football club. Since then, it's just exploded. I'll do about 50 hours a week, phone calls and everything. Often the police come to us and say, “oh can you come and see somebody in a care home we want you to have a look at we want him to come to your project.”
So you can see how we've evolved, you can see how we are evolving. I consider us to be the mud puddle at the bottom of the life ladder. To get up the ladder, you got to get through the puddle. Why not come to a warm, friendly environment? We are at the bottom of the ladder.

And I want us to stay there. Unnoticed in a way. We've got 15 volunteers who work hard. We have got the community behind us. You're talking to 17 people now. It's not me, it's everybody. Humble yourself and be with them. 

There are some wonderful people in the community. But there's only 8% in any society that will volunteer for anything out of the 100%, which is a low figure.  Many years ago the community looked different. People had time for each other and helped each other. What we want to do is get everybody to step back and learn and live with each other peacefully and harmoniously as a citizen.

The councils put a barrier between postcodes and sometimes I think that causes a lot of problems. We have got people who come from B16 B17 and B18 and they are saying well, “you can't work with those from across the border, because that’s not Sandwell.” When we look at that we say, “no, it doesn't matter where they come from, what they do.”

With the young people we work with, sometimes it’s about self-confidence, they are doubting what they do. So you have to bring it out and help them understand that none of us are perfect. We are all going to make mistakes along the way. There are certain things you can do and some things you can’t do. We encourage them to work on what they can do, not what they can’t do.

It’s life skill mentoring. I work with the most difficult ones. It's about identifying the strengths in themselves. You may not very be very good at painting, but you write a beautiful essay. A lot of people don't get into reading with young kids. So what you do is you take that reading into the writing, the painting, the doing, whatever. So what you do is you slowly find the good, push them on the good, and then feed in the painting, feed-in cohesion, feed-in tolerance. Because sometimes we have a very intolerant community,  it can be very horrible. Eventually, you build the self-esteem, you build the connection, you build the relationship. The key is to get to know the people we serve. We don't deliver. We never have.  We serve, and to serve is to be there for them any time, any place. If we can help them we will help them.

People work with us to pick up an ethos rather than a qualification. Schools often just tell kids what to do, they got a tick box society. As long as the kids tick their boxes they're happy. There's nowhere in the school that teaches all kinds of things like council tax, like VAT, and fundamental bill-paying skills that you are going to need.

The greatest way to bring change is through rust. And if you promise something, then bloody well do it. Don't bullshit the community because it doesn't work. So it's about being true to your word, it’s being accountable. It's consistency showing up. The community knows that we're here. 50 weeks of the year. It doesn't matter if it snows will still turn up. We are still here to see the kids. It's about being tolerant and available for the community.

Everybody who has come to Benson has succeeded in every goal they've ever given us. Whether it's to join a netball team or whether it's to live in a care home away from drugs. What I'd like to think is I actually come here for the 3 hours, I say to the kids, “that's a metal cage that’s around that pitch. When you're in there, you with Benson” and they love it.

It’s opening up barriers isn't it. It’s opening up doors that I feel some people can't reach because I haven't got the time, the enthusiasm the patience

It’s about celebrating diversity. What does might to us? We say: DIVERSITY. Different Individuals Valuing Each other Regardless of Skin, sexuality, Intellect, Talent or Years. 

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