My Tribute to Michael Conway MBE

My Tribute to Michael Conway MBE

I will never forget the first time I met Michael. I had piloted a charitable project in East London, named the ‘Street Soccer Academy’ to help vulnerable young people who were experiencing homelessness. It had gone really well, making a great impact for those involved, so I wanted to bring the programme to Kent, my home County. I wanted to find an organisation that would be relevant and supportive of the project and researched local construction firms and came across FM Conway.

After reading all about the family-driven company, from its roots and Michael’s father getting the business started, I knew this was the company I would love to partner with given the opportunity.

I hand wrote a letter for the attention of Michael. I had never met Michael before and had no ties or connections with FM Conway at all. I wrote from the heart and simply asked for fifteen minutes of his time, whenever he was free.

As a result of this letter, Michael’s PA, Victoria, emailed me to invite me in to meet with Michael at the Head Office in Sevenoaks. I was over the moon and so grateful.

And so… the moment I will never forget. My meeting with Michael Conway. I had asked for fifteen minutes. He gave me almost an hour. Michael was so generous, warm, and encouraging. Yet at the same time, he was also firm and direct! He was so inspiring. Incredibly so.

Michael Conway MBE with Keith Mabbutt

When I think back to our discussion, the fact he was the CEO of FM Conway, and with all that would go with that role and responsibility – yet the genuine interest he showed in the Street Soccer Foundation and me as a person, was just amazing. It was almost as if he was a Trustee or a Mentor to me. The questions he asked. They were meaningful, insightful, challenging – it was a brilliant meeting.

The upshot, I was there to ultimately ask whether Michael had the appetite to back me and the Foundation, to help us launch our programme of support for homeless young people in Kent – which I’d successfully piloted in London.

Conway would be our exclusive sponsor

Michael agreed. Conway would be our exclusive sponsor – and the sponsorship would enable us to cover the cost of helping support a group of young people over two 10-week programmes during the year, aiming to help these individuals improve their soft skills and find a route into work, education or further training. But most importantly – to give them greater life skills to re-integrate themselves into society and improve their confidence, motivation and self-belief.

Our strapline is ‘Changing Lives through Football’. With Michael’s belief in me, and Conway’s sponsorship and support of the Street Soccer Foundation, it would mean we would be able to effect positive social change in the lives of others in the local community surrounding Conway.

And this… this is what I fondly remember the most from our first meeting together: right towards the end of our discussion, Michael suddenly stood up, invited me towards him as he held out his hand, and with a firm handshake, the words I will never, ever forget:

Now bloody get on with it!!

I had never experienced such a meeting before. It was the best conclusion to a meeting. All the time I’d had with Michael up to that point had been my presenting to Michael, talking him through my own background, how the idea for the Foundation had come about, my purpose and mission, my ‘why’ – and the impact I aimed to achieve in support of others.

I’d then gone on to explain the numbers. The investment required. The costs we would need to ideally have covered off. My plans on how we would identify and ‘recruit’ the young people, and how we would support them following the programme.

How we would make every penny count for Conway and importantly, seek to provide a social value ROI?

On Michael agreeing to have Conway sponsor us, it was the best result. I was thrilled and incredibly grateful to him. But then to have Michael say that to me at the end of the meeting – I was so surprised and in all honesty, I wasn’t 100% on how to react (!) – but I actually remember smiling and then cupping his hand and offered “I absolutely will sir, thank you so much”. And then literally in a blink of an eye, I was standing on my own, outside the building, and Michael was gone.

I couldn’t quite believe what had happened. What a whirlwind of a meeting! Within the hour, I had met someone I had never met before. I had been firmly interrogated. But in the best way. And I was now standing there, outside Conway’s Head Office, having secured a sponsorship for the Foundation, which meant we could operate and get started in Kent. Michael had given me my start.

Fast forward to today, in April 2022, and now, the Street Soccer Foundation operates nationally, all over England, and partners with several Premier League clubs on the community side, who all deliver our now nationally acclaimed Street Soccer Academy – to help vulnerable and homeless young people nationwide.

The Foundation also now runs a ‘Street Soccer Stars’ provision for children aged 5-15, and we have already helped support thousands of disadvantaged children in and across Kent and Medway in just the last year alone.

As I sit here in our office in Maidstone, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that it is fundamentally down to Michael’s belief in me; his support of me and the Street Soccer Foundation – that we have gone on to help change the lives of literally thousands of others, all over the country – because of the start he gave me.

Michael's own drive and passion

And it’s not just that. It’s Michael’s own drive and passion for his work, that genuinely inspired me too. Whenever you want to get something done and done well, it typically comes down to being motivated to do so, or being inspired to do so.

I had the motivation. That’s why I formed the Foundation. The passion and desire to help other people. But Michael also gave me the inspiration. The way he was. The inspiration to make a difference. The inspiration – and motivation actually, to drive the Foundation forward.

I didn’t really ‘know’ Michael. But this first meeting – a lifetime memory for me – and then the subsequent encounters I had with him over the past few years, gave me enough of an insight into a man that I truly admired so very much. Every minute I had in his company I will cherish and remember. I will forever be grateful to Michael for his belief in me as a person, and as a leader of a charity.

All of our achievements as a charity… all of the lives we positively change for the better… all the impact we create – I will always consider Michael and FM Conway being at the heart of it all.

Although I am not part of Michael’s family – or even his ‘work family’, I will miss Michael greatly and will always remember him and be thankful for every second I shared with him.

Michael for me, is part of our legacy. And will remain part of the heartbeat of the Street Soccer Foundation forever.

To all his family and those who loved him, I offer my sincerest condolences.

Thank you for believing in me Michael. For your unwavering support and for your inspirational example to me to help drive the Street Soccer Foundation forward, to help change the lives of as many others as we can.

Keith Mabbutt

Keith Mabbutt

Founder & CEO - Street Soccer Foundation
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