“Elavon is changing lives.”
That’s the bold statement of Simon Lister, Business Development Manager at the University of Essex.
“Sponsorship is everything,” he adds. “It makes the difference between having the Essex Rebels Programme and not – it’s that important to us.”
The Essex Rebels is much more than a sports club, and Elavon is hugely proud to have been headline sponsor for 2021/22.
“The Rebels are incredible role models, both on and off the basketball court. You just have to hear about the impact they’re making in the community to know they’re a truly special club, full of people who genuinely care,” says Dena Boyce, Senior New Business Manager, Education and Charity for Elavon Europe. “We couldn’t be any prouder to support the Essex Rebels in all the work they do.”
The club started as a university team in 2014 with under a dozen players getting together on a Friday night.
Fast forward (past two years of pandemic restrictions) and the Rebels have become the throbbing heart of a thriving community both online and in real life.
The club now boasts a professional senior womens and mens teams with some salaried players and staff. After an undefeated run, the women’s student team took home the 2022 BUCS Championship title (British Universities and Colleges Sports). There’s also the Rebels Play, a club for children aged under five, and the Essex Rebels Juniors offering skills and confidence building (with or without the need to compete) for those aged nine to 18.
Then there’s the real game-changing Essex Rebels’ schools engagement programme.
“Some of our players go into primary schools to host assemblies, run training classes or after-school clubs and conduct skills-based workshops,” says Simon.
“They talk to the children about dual-career pathways and mixing professional sport with academic passions. It’s a concept many of the children don’t realise is an option, and nor do their parents,” Simon adds.
The University of Essex is based in Colchester. A city, like many others, with pockets of extreme deprivation and poverty nestled side by side with areas of affluence and opportunity.
“Our players become mentors. They talk to the children about goals, having targets and aspirations. You can see the impact it has on the children’s faces and, often, their parents too,” says Simon.
DeAngelique Waithe – Essex Rebels
DeAngelique ‘Angel’ Waithe has played for the Essex Rebels for three seasons. Two of them as a professional athlete in the Women’s British Basketball League (WBBL), after completing her Masters in Sports and Exercise Science with the university.
Being involved with the schools engagement programme has had a big impact on Angel, herself, too.
“I’m constantly amazed and intrigued. You walk into the room and you either see a lot of children who look like you, or you don’t. You wonder how you’re going to connect and if you can at all. But the best part is always our presentation and the question and answer session that follows it,” says Angel.
“It always gets them going and engaged and they’re so interested in us as people – and ask about me, about studying, playing and being able to do that professionally, and not having to pick one over the other,” she adds.
“We explain it’s something they can do too and, in fact, if there’s something you want, then you can achieve it. Whether that’s sport, being part of a team, staying in school, or anything in life”, says Angel.
“I will keep playing but when… if… I ever hang up my shoes, it’s made me want to coach and inspire kids,” adds Angel.
Investing in the future
“We invite the classes we visit and their families to match day, which is now on Saturday, where the atmosphere and vibe is like nothing else and they get to see their mentors – their rolemodels - in action,” says Simon.
“For those that are keen to join but may not have the means, we offer scholarships and, in time, will offer help for those who want to come to the University of Essex too.”
"When pandemic restrictions forced the club to close its arena to spectators, they took match day online. Games were live streamed through Youtube and a digital following grew on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook," says Simon.
Given the university is one of the top three in the UK when it comes to its proportion of international students, this digital presence brought the club to new audiences globally.
“We suddenly had a fanbase that was all over the world, joining our matches online, at all manner of day and night wherever they were, to support their loved ones here in the UK playing for the Rebels. A community far beyond our arena and university,” says Simon.
“We still stream our matches online, but now spectators are allowed and restrictions are continuing to ease, crowds are growing week on week.
“There’s nothing like being there, in the arena, on match-day. We have kiss-cam and mascots, our ‘hype’ guy and DJ – who became commentators when we took things online – make it an atmosphere unlike any other. With our food stands and of course the basketball – it’s a family day out, that’s nurturing, safe and terrific fun.”
You can find out more about Essex Rebels online, including how to attend match days or watch games streamed live.