Katee is the founder of Hackney Laces, and with a MSc in Environmental Science spends her days working as a management consultant while being the force behind the growth of the Laces family.
Since 2011, Katee through Laces has been on a mission to get as many girls and women playing football as possible, while raising aspirations along the way. For her work with Laces, Katee has been recognised with a number of awards, including Top 100 Changemakers by the Big Issue, BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Unsung Hero for London (2018), and a Point of Light Award from the Prime Minister.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
What role did sport play in your life as a young person?
Sport was my life growing up! My mom put my sister and I in lots of different sports, because she saw the value of sport beyond physical activity. It taught us team work, leadership and gave us a play to being and sense of identity.
Who influenced you as a young person?
I had a soccer coach called Amaris who when I was 14 told me that I didn’t need to be the best, but if I tried really hard soccer could take me places.
What is your educational background?
I had a football scholarship from Mount Hamilton Youth Soccer Club as well as the Canadian Millennium Scholarship to attend Queen’s university, where I studied a BA in Geography. I attended the London School of Economics to complete a Masters in Environmental Policy and Regulation.
What is your career background?
My career has always been rooted in creating change and social impact. I spent time working in agencies including Nice and Serious and Pentagram as well as working in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Sainsbury’s. I’m now at FutureGov, a change agency that uses design and technology to make public services fit for the 21st century.
Pick three words to describe yourself?
Creative, energetic, positive
What do you do in your spare time/hobbies?
I’ve recently taken up triathlon so spend time training! I also have a miniature dachshund and love taking her for walks. And I’m a Global trustee for parkrun, the world’s largest physical activity movement so I spend time with the board and doing parkruns.
How long have you been with the Laces for and what led you to become involved?
I set up Laces in 2011 because there were no opportunities in my local area for teenage girls to play football. I know firsthand the transformative power of sport and wanted to be able to help my community by setting up a place for girls to play.
Why do you think sports works so well to engage young people?
Sport is a leveler. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, where you grew up, your body shape, on the pitch everyone is welcome and this brings people together. It’s also a space to build confidence and try new things, something young people don’t get to do that often and in safe environments.
What are some of the main challenges the young people you work with face?
We operate areas of high social deprivation (Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth). Lots of our players are on free school meals; some are in care; and many face challenging decisions around friendships groups and belonging specifically with gangs. Increasingly we’re also seeing a rise in mental health issues so have been working with youth mental health charities to support our players as much as we can.
What positive changes have you seen since you began with the Laces?
We see amazing changes all the time. For us it’s about development, growth and aspiration. We saw three players off to America last year on full athletic scholarships, both the first generation in their family to attend university. We’ve also seen such growth in confidence. Many of the girls who I coached when we first set up in 2011 are now running the club – to me that’s been one of our biggest impacts.
What impact would you like to achieve going forward?
Continue to be that place where people can come and be themselves. Whether it’s the girl who just moved to the UK from Portugal that doesn’t speak English and loves football or the girl who didn’t make the cut for her school team, laces is a place where any girl can come and feel like they belong.
Who/what do you rely on to create the impact in your community?
Collaboration is in our DNA. We work with lots of different organisations like London Football Journeys and the Sisterhood to help deliver our ‘off the pitch’ programme. We also rely on the generosity of our volunteers and people who give their time to help us run.
What have been some of your biggest learnings so far?
The need is absolutely still there. This is evidenced by the 419 emails we got to the ‘hello’ inbox this year from players, parents, youth workers, social workers, teachers and others getting in touch asking whether we are taking on new players. We’re also continually getting a constant flow of queries about our ‘off the pitch’ work.
Hire an accountant. Annual returns, accounts and filing are a nightmare. Whilst they can be a good thing to learn, they are best left to professionals. Unless of course, you like stress and threats of fines.
£1.50 to take a bus may not seem like it’s a huge amount of money. To some of our players it is, so even getting to matches is a barrier. And there are so many barriers to young people playing sport, let alone girls who face additional barriers like sexism and it becomes more about making a safe, free place to play than anything else.
What are some of the challenges you face going forward?
In inner London we have always struggled for space. Finding a pitch that is suitable is hard. Most pitches have legacy bookings from men’s teams or leagues. This has been our biggest challenge as we’ve scaled.
Retaining talent is another challenge. We have some of the best coaches in London but only offer sessional work. No doubt we will lose some of them to more stable employment and this is something we have to plan for so there’s consistency and a steady stream of quality coaches.
How much of your time do you dedicate to fundraising over the implementation of the programme?
I spend a couple of hours a week working on the sustainability of our work. It used to be way more, but now that we’re older as an organisation (coming up to 9 years!) we’re getting to a point where the team and volunteers drive the work.
What are some of the best or most memorable experiences you have had?
A few years back we took 20 of the girls to Spain. 19 of which had never left the country and 5 of which had never left Hackney. My mom and sister flew over from Canada to help chaperone alongside our coaches and we spent 5 days in Barcelona playing girls teams there. Although we went for the football, it was the whole experience that was memorable because we were literally watching as the girls’ horizons were growing.
Earlier this year we had a surprise visit from Alex Scott, the former England and Arsenal player. It was one of those moments where everyone was captive, emotional and excited that she was with us and training with us.
Who/what inspires you?
Women like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who are fighting for better futures for other people.
What would be your message to others trying to create impact in their communities?
Take the leap and try. Even if you don’t get it right first time, at least you’re doing something!