Blind England footballer’s business ‘changing perceptions about disability’
Posted on April 6, 2021 by Jonathan Symcox
A blind England international footballer is looking to educate thousands around the world about disability through his ground-breaking business.
Rochdale-born Azeem Amir, 22, has created his own team of coaches and is launching a unique workshop programme. He is already gaining UK-wide interest and is in talks with the Football Association and other organisations about delivering them internationally.
The workshops, delivered through his business Learn With ESS (Education, Sport and Speaking), look to address stigmatised issues surrounding disability and change perceptions through team building activities and away days.
They pivoted to an online model as a result of COVID-19.
Azeem, who was born with no sight in his right eye and just light perception in his left, plays blind football professionally around the world with England and is an aspiring Paralympian.
In 2019, he started Learn With ESS with the help of GC Business Growth Hub, after attending a programme they delivered at the Launch business incubator, based at the University of Salford.
Aimed at educational institutions such as schools and colleges, professional and grassroots sports clubs, as well as corporate businesses, Learn With ESS aims to offer a unique life-lasting experience.
Working with the Hub, Azeem developed a workshop which incorporates classroom-based activities on learning, visual and hearing impairment awareness, followed by a practical Paralympic taster session on sports such as blind football and goalball, and a motivational talk from a local role model or athlete.
Azeem and his team started successfully piloting his business last March in local schools and colleges and was due to launch before the pandemic hit.
Like many businesses, they switched to delivering online and over the last year more than 20 schools, football clubs and businesses nationally have benefited from a virtual programme.
Now with restrictions easing and pupils returning to the classroom, several schools and organisations in the region have already signed up for COVID-secure face-to-face workshops.
And Azeem is keen for even more people to benefit from the programme.
He said: “Many people like myself who have overcome barriers in their lives can positively inspire and motivate others, so I thought, get these like-minded individuals and athletes together and develop it into a brand to change mindsets and create a more resilient and understanding nation.
“Me and the coaches are really excited to formally launch Learn With ESS and my ambition is to have every school and grassroots sports team in the country signed up.
“The Hub have played a big part in getting Learn With ESS off the ground, particularly my advisor Isabelle and the Launch Incubator, and I can’t thank them enough for their support.
“Isabelle, in particular, has been there from the start from when this was just an idea in a notebook. She has made a big difference, pushed me and has been a brilliant sounding board all the way through this.
Azeem added: “Talking to The Football Association and others about taking this programme international is really exciting. I’m also hoping to take this programme to corporate clients as a team away day.
“I have already partnered up with global brands such as Nike and Santander, and this is an area I will be looking to develop in the future. I would like to thank everyone who has helped and supported Learn With ESS to get this far so quickly and I know it’s just the start.”
GC Business Growth Hub advisor Isabelle Farquhar supports Azeem offering 1-2-1 mentoring and advice on everything from branding, website content to employing staff and social media.
She said: “Azeem is brilliant. He is a very enterprising and enthusiastic individual, who sees the positive in things and his disability hasn’t stopped him whatsoever.
“Azeem is passionate about what he does and it has been a pleasure to work him for the last 18 months.
“We helped him to research and set up the business whilst he was on the Launch programme, and we have been with him on every step of his business journey.
“COVID was a challenge but Azeem rose to it. We worked together to ensure his business survived and I helped him redefine his strategy.
“Whilst he has been developing his business with us, we have also supported him with other opportunities that have come along. He really is an inspiring individual.”
Azeem is also currently studying for a Masters, is a TedTalks speaker as well as an ambassador for several disability awareness charities and organisations.
Since Azeem started his business, he has also partnered with the National Citizen Service to introduce his programme into English Football League Clubs and community trusts including Blackburn Rovers, Oldham Athletic, Preston North End, Salford City FC and Rochdale AFC.