This is how Harrogate has helped to give the gift of childhood to a Ugandan orphanage

Paul Barker with just some of the football boots he collected, thanks to the generosity of Harrogate residents. Picture: Gerard Binks.
Paul Barker with just some of the football boots he collected, thanks to the generosity of Harrogate residents. Picture: Gerard Binks.

An overwhelming outpouring of kindness and generosity from the Harrogate community has helped to give the precious gift of childhood to an orphanage in Uganda.

All driven and spearheaded by Harrogate football coach Paul Barker, nearly 400 pairs of football boots have now been collected and sent away to help children leave their troubles behind when they step out onto the football pitch.

Paul said: "It's about letting kids be kids - a lot of them are having to grow up very quickly, so this is a way of letting them have a childhood, to be able to go out and play.

"These kids have so much going on in their lives, but just being able to go out and play helps them to have a childhood and be carefree. While they are on the football field, they don't have to think about what happened to their parents, or worry about the future - that time is their time to have fun and be a kid."

Paul previously collected 150 pairs of boots, but has been determined this year to secure enough for all 400 children to have a pair each in the orphanage after learning that they had to share boots and were only allowed seven minutes each before taking them off and handing them to someone else.

The latest collection for football boots has captured the hearts of the town, with dozens of community groups and kind-hearted individuals answering Paul's call to action - driven by the heartbreaking thought of how little the children at the orphanage have.

Paul said: "It's amazing how many mothers have got in touch, thinking about what these kids are going through - these are kids who have nothing, and many don't even have a pair of shoes or anything to wear. The mums are thinking, my kids get five or six pairs of boots, and they throw them away then buy more.

"People who have donated are very conscious of the throwaway society we have, and want to help. Some people have asked why we aren't doing it for people in this country - there is a difference between people saying that they are hard up at the moment and can't afford a new pair, and these kids in Uganda who have got nothing."

Paul said it's not just about the football boots themselves, it's what they represent - a gateway to forming friendships, being happy, and promoting better physical and mental wellbeing.

He said: "It's amazing what kicking a football about can do. Football is a global thing, it's a universal language that brings people together. I know through playing sports that there is always someone to talk to, you can always strike up a conversation with somebody."

The appeal has also struck a chord with local football teams, including Harrogate Town AFC - whose first team players have stepped up to donate.

Sports equipment has been posted out alongside the 388 pairs of boots, as well as some baby clothes and toothbrushes, thanks to a teacher at Rossett School.

Collection points for the appeal included Kidzplay, Jennyfields Co-op, and Stomp in Knaresborough. The donations were shipped out by a courier that is delivering them for free.