In the heart of Hackney’s Hoxton Street lies a petite shop boasting strikingly graphic footballs in the window.
Passers-by will smile at the funky designs but may not realise that this shop belongs to the world’s only not-for-profit ball manufacturer, which is raising millions of pounds for those in need.
Alive and Kicking, which has been based in Hoxton since 2017, provides ethical jobs in Africa by employing people in disadvantaged areas – granting its workers a fair wage, sick pay and a pension scheme through a range of opportunities including ball production, marketing and finance.
Proceeds from selling these hand-stitched footballs, alongside fundraising, contribute to delivering vital health education to teachers and children in Sub-Saharan Africa, along with medical care and education which would otherwise be unaffordable.
But what is striking about their footballs is the unique designs, which are instantly eye-catching.
They are colourful, cultural, abstract, and characteristic – donning designs of animals, people and jazzy patterns.
Chief executive officer Ben Sadler explained how he became involved with the organisation and how it has grown in recent years.
He said: “I lived in Zambia and Kenya working for sports-based charities and was introduced to Alive and Kicking.
“It’s a brilliant organisation set up in 2004 by a teacher in Kenya who would receive donations for schools and wanted to make sure young people had access to football.”
Newcastle native Ben became Alive and Kicking CEO upon his return to the UK in 2017, setting up a London base to sell the products and spread the word.
Notable figures such as Barack Obama, Alan Shearer and Wilfried Zaha have all provided their support and, in February, £10,000 was raised when a team of five representing Alive and Kicking completed the Three Peaks Challenge.
In 2022, the team produced 43,892 ethical footballs, with more than one million made since inception.
This, in turn, has raised more than £5m for local economies in Zambia, Kenya and Ghana, with 75% of employees using their income to access education and 63% of employees using their income to access healthcare.
Currently more than 42% of people in sub-Saharan Africa are living on an income of $1.90 or less per day, with workers facing unsafe conditions and severe poverty.
Disadvantaged regions in Africa fall victim to poor physical and mental health, with diseases such as Malaria and HIV affecting millions.
The Alive and Kicking London base, originally in The Leather Market, moved to Hoxton Street to work more closely with the community.
Ben explained: “We wanted a presence on the high street, where the public could see our work, and it fits quite well as Hoxton is such a creative area.
“The idea is to create an impact in all countries we have a presence in. Every ball we make will have a positive impact on young people, giving them access to sport.”
The team work closely with youth clubs and schools in London, setting up a ‘ball library hub’ which allows kids to borrow a ball for free.
Ben said: “The hubs increase access to sport for people who just want to play without committing to a football club.
“It also increases the use of concrete courts and available pitches in the area, boosting the mental wellbeing of young kids.”
Speaking about the footballs, Ben added: “These are handmade using local upcycled materials and only use half the carbon footprint that a typical ball would.
“There are several ways in which we get our designs – from those living in Africa, through partnerships, the people of Hoxton, collaborations, and local artists. Anyone can submit a design for a ball.
“In 2021 we were part of a competition where 1600 young artists, including refugees, from 100 countries designed their own ‘dream balls’, with five winners picked, and during the FIFA World Cup last year, 32 artists inputted their design ideas.”
Alive and Kicking will continue elevating its success, and has forged partnerships with UEFA and Coca-Cola, picked up multiple awards, and contributed to making football accessible to kids in London and Africa.