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Southside Warriors goalie Ava Saunders has received a generous donation from charity Olivia Inspires





A young female footballer’s sporting dreams have been given a massive boost thanks to local charity Olivia Inspires.

As a goalkeeper for Southside Warriors, Ava Saunders (15), from Blackfield, is the only girl in the team.

The teenager also helps care for her younger sister Florence, who has autism, and says playing football “keeps me going”, adding: “The football field is where I unwind. It feels like the one place I can just be me and do what I want.”

Ava Saunders hopes to become a professional footballer
Ava Saunders hopes to become a professional footballer

Ava has been given a generous donation from the charity that will pay for kit and club fees for the season.

She became involved in the game at Blackfield Primary School, where PE teacher Eddie Hungerford was credited by her mother Emma with helping to further her interest.

Ava Saunders received a donation from charity 'Olivia Inspires'
Ava Saunders received a donation from charity 'Olivia Inspires'

Ava said: “Mum had sent me to ballet lessons since I was small, but one day I realised football was on offer at school.

“I tried it and really liked it. Then during one match the goalkeeper didn’t turn up and I offered to go in their place.

“I really loved it and the team thought I was really good at being a goalie.”

Ava, who now attends Noadswood School in Dibden Purlieu, started playing for Fawley Falcons before moving to Southside Warriors, based in Southampton.

She would one day like to join a professional football team.

At home, Ava helps care for Florence, who is nearly 12, and Emma says she does “an excellent job at it”.

She said: “Ava is very understanding although it can be quite difficult with Florence. She can suffer meltdowns and things.

“But Ava has a high level of tolerance and helps to calm her. They have a lovely relationship.”

Emma, a civil servant, says Ava’s football is “her happy place” adding: “I dread to think how much I spent on ballet lessons for her, then she ended up a goalie!

“Football is something she absolutely loves and it is so wonderful for the charity to give her this huge boost.

“I think it is such a good charity which has supported so many young people. We are very grateful.”

Paula Burt, Olivia Inspires co-founder, said: “We were really impressed by what Ava told us in her application. We know how tough it is for girls to compete against boys from Olivia’s experiences in sailing.

“When Ava told us that football is her ‘happy place’ and how tough it is for her mum to support her, we just knew we had to help her.

“With Mary Earps as her icon, we wish Ava the same success as the Lionesses’ goalkeeper.”

Olivia Inspires was set up by Nigel and Paula Burt, from Brockenhurst, named after their daughter, who was tragically killed at the age of 20 while at university.

Paula and Nigel Burt of Olivia Inspires, which won the Best New Forest Charity/Social Enterprise/Community Interest Company (Photo: Dave Dodge Photography)
Paula and Nigel Burt of Olivia Inspires, which won the Best New Forest Charity/Social Enterprise/Community Interest Company (Photo: Dave Dodge Photography)

It helps youngsters aged between 11 and 18 and aims to “allow Olivia’s spirit to live on by helping young people in the New Forest to realise their potential”.

At the end of last year, Olivia Inspires was named Charity of the Year in the New Forest Brilliance in Business Awards.

Since its creation at the end of 2019, it has helped around 450 children from the New Forest, who have received grants totalling nearly £80,000.

To donate to the charity, visit www.oliviainspires.org.uk



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