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Aston Villa will carry the name of a children's charity on their shirts next season after announcing a partnership with the West Midlands-based Acorns Children's Hospice. The charity's logo will feature on the club's shirt for free in the 2008-09 season after their lucrative sponsorship deal with internet gambling website 32RED.com came to an end.


The club said the decision to promote the hospices would help Acorns to raise funds and "give something back" to the community. Duncan Riddle, Villa's head of community, added that commercial offers had been turned down in favour of supporting the charity.


Villa's American owner, Randy Lerner, manager Martin O'Neill and the board had been fully behind the decision to opt for a non-commercial partner, said Riddle, before adding: "Yes, the shirts have monetary value, but they also have emotional value to fans and this is something to give back to them."


Although Villa's previous shirt sponsorship deal was thought to be worth in the region of £2m, the club hope to raise the profile of the Acorns and help boost donations through the arrangement. The move is comparable to Barcelona's link-up with Unicef, which began in 2006 - although the Catalan side had never previously had a shirt sponsor in their 107-year-history.


Acorns offers year-round respite care, end-of-life care and bereavement services, supporting children and their families from across the West Midlands and Gloucestershire, basing its work across three 10-bed units in Worcester, Birmingham and Walsall.


David Strudley, the chief executive of Acorns, praised Villa's decision to help them reach out to the local community. "Currently we look after some 600 children and their families, but we still need to reach out to probably more than 1,000 other children over the whole of the West Midlands," he said. "They listened to us when we told them that we needed a platform - they really did want to help the community. A strategy of the magnitude that we are trying to run with demands that we get a message to the maximum number of people quickly - this partnership provides that platform."


Acorns currently has an annual budget of around £6m, 15% of which comes from a network of shops and the rest from public donations. Villa's staff and players were already involved in supporting Acorns' work and several players, including England midfielder Gareth Barry, have visited its hospices.


Richard Scudamore, the Premier League's chief executive, also welcomed Villa's decision. "Real credit must go to Aston Villa for being the first Premier League club to use their shirt sponsorship to highlight their charity partnership with Acorns," he said. "I am sure that Acorns' association with Aston Villa will be a great help in raising awareness and funds for the excellent work they undertake."

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