It’s a widely-held belief that sport has a unique ability to unite people from a range of backgrounds, sometimes in the most unlikely of circumstances. And that is certainly proving to be the case at Barnet and Southgate College, thanks to the success of their women’s volleyball team.
The team, set up after the idea was touted by an ‘English for Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL) student at the college three years ago, has reached the National Championships in April following success at their London regional tournament.
Under normal circumstances, this would be an impressive achievement in such a short time-frame, but add to that the fact that five of the seven team members were ESOL students, from different countries with different native languages, and their success becomes all the more remarkable.
Nationalities making up the team include Italian, Romanian, Swedish, Colombian, Greek and Dominican, yet their differences haven’t restricted their progress – in fact, the students have thrived both on and off the court.
Taking up volleyball at college has helped five of the students make the move from ESOL courses to mainstream qualifications, such as science and IT, and team captain Aida Cannea Korjani – studying BTEC Level 3 Applied Science - believes they couldn’t have found a better way to settle into life at Barnet and Southgate. She said, “We feel like we have another family between the teams, we support and have each other’s back.”
Meanwhile, College Sports Maker Nicholas Nanikhan says the students’ progress hasn’t gone unnoticed in the classroom either. He said, “ESOL teachers have commented on the benefits that sport offers to their students such as teaching communication skills, language development, teamwork and discipline.
“They are extremely dedicated and value any opportunity given to them. Volleyball is also a very popular sport in their respective countries.”
When the team travel to the National Championships in April, they will be following in the footsteps of the college’s men’s team, who reached the finals last year and narrowly missed out again this time around.
But CSM Nicholas insists the team won’t be resting on their laurels, regardless of how they get on in Tyne and Wear – they have big plans for the future. “We now have three-and-a-half hours of volleyball on offer to our students on site each week, with one of our sessions focusing on increasing female participation.
“We also link with local volleyball club VK Barnet and Woodhouse College through a satellite club project, so our students now have access to two hours of regular expert coaching. They now have their own uniform, we’ve had balls donated to us by Volleyball England and are currently working on a facility grant that will enable more students to access our sessions.
“The students have also acted as volunteers at the London Legacy Volleyball Cup as floor moppers and ball retrievers, and even obtained the Volleyball England Go Spike Activators Award.”
But before looking to the long-term future of the club, there is the small matter of the National Championships to prepare for. “We will give as much as we can to win the Championships,” said Aida. “We feel very proud of it, but at the same time it’s a big responsibility.”