The EFL Trust has always been fiercely proud of its network of 'Football Club Community Organisations' and the outstanding role that they play in their communities day in, day out - but never has this been more keenly felt than over the past four weeks.
Over the four weeks, Club Community Organisations (CCOs), whose work for many years has been centred around working with and helping groups of people, have had to adapt rapidly.
So often, the key principle of these football club charities is utilising the ability of the club badge to bring people together to enhance and improve their lives; be it by supporting their education, physical health, mental wellbeing or the cohesion of communities overall.
As the Government advice around large and then even small gatherings changed and schools closed, the weekly sessions that have defined the Trust’s organisations had to change. And change they have.
Adaptation was necessary, but it is easier to adapt sometimes when there is a really good reason to do so. And in the case of over 70 Football Club Community Organisations, the reason is people. People are at the heart of what they do. Hundreds of places on Easter holiday clubs made way for food deliveries for the vulnerable; weekly sessions that brought disabled children together, became online sessions to support movement in the home; girls football sessions became projects supporting the delivery of women’s sanitary and hygiene packs to those most in need. Existing partnerships have strengthened and new partnerships have formed, and all against the backdrop of an unprecedented landscape for both the country and football.
Across the three divisions of the English Football League, change has happened swiftly and with one common purpose: to continue to serve the needs of the people in the club’s local community.
At Cambridge United, under the banner of the Club’s ‘Here for U’s’ campaign, the Community Trust has been working tirelessly to provide practical, emotional and physical support to their area.
Its response takes into consideration the variety of people and their needs in the local community and aims to provide exactly what their community needs to get them through this difficult time.
Sam Gomarsall, Community Trust Manager, explains: “These are unprecedented times and the club wants to do everything it can to play its part in helping our community through this. Naturally, we’re having to adapt our approach to community work but we’re as committed as ever to being there for our local community when they need us the most.”
Amongst the many strands of work under the Here For U’s project, the Trust has teamed up with the Cambridge City Council’s Food Poverty Alliance, to ensure that vulnerable children in the area will continue to get the meals they need during the holiday period. Cambridge United’s club catering manager has volunteered to work with the Trust to ensure meals are prepared and the team then distribute them to homes. Additionally, the Trust’s award-winning ‘Mind Your Head’ project, supporting young people (normally face to face in schools) has gone online, to ensure as many local children continue to receive the support they need.
In Blackpool, serving some of the most deprived wards in the country, CEO of Blackpool’s Community Trust, Ashley Hackett explains: “My team have been absolutely amazing their response. Staff members continue to work from home, developing a host of ways to stay in contact with our participants and partner organisations.
“Our education and employability teams have developed virtual classrooms to continue to educate our students and maintain some regularity for them. Participants are continuing to have for classes each day and complete their normal work, but just from home.
“Some don’t have laptops, so we have sent them home with ours and some don’t have Wi-Fi in their homes so we are sending paper-based assignments for them to complete and we are calling them to talk through the subjects, whilst we investigate if we can get them online in their houses.
“On request, our school delivery teams have continued to support educational establishments that are open for key workers and are short staffed. Our secondary schools team has been putting challenges and ideas together to support teenagers’ resilience and mental wellbeing.”
Showing how vital partnership has always been and continues to be, the team at Wigan Athletic Community Trust acted swiftly to ensure that their team would be supporting the right effort locally.
Ian Gaskell, who has been co-ordinating Latics’ Covid-19 response, is keen to stress that their work is part of a much wider local team response.
“There are a lot of local organisations involved in the effort. What we decided, when the enormity of the situation became clear, is that we need to use our resources in the best way possible and that obviously means being part of a combined effort.”
The Community Trust works with a wide variety of partners on a weekly basis, so as Gaskell explains, finding out where they could help most effectively happened very quickly.
“We made lots of phone calls to our partners in particular Wigan Council, who are leading the response locally. However we also spoke to food banks and homeless charities to see what they were doing and how we can best help them. Things like picking up PPE from the council and delivering it to local care homes.”
The other area where the Community Trust work is proving invaluable is their understanding and unique connection to the community. Tom Flower, Wigan Athletic’s Head of Community, says: “We are a club, like many others around the country, which is right in the heart of our community.
“We engaged directly with close to 15,000 people last year. The nature of our work means most of these fall into the category of ‘vulnerable’. Each of the people had average contact time of 24 hours, so we have an understanding of their needs.”
“One of the first calls we made was to a gentleman on one of our programmes who we recognised as the kind of guy that would not want to ask for help, but we know he has a responsibility for caring for his grandchildren. The phone call quickly identified that he was struggling to put food on the table. We were able to make an emergency referral on his behalf and within 24 hours he’d received a food delivery.”
Due to their locations at the heart of communities, Football Club Community Organisations work with some of the most vulnerable members of the community and ensuring that they are not further affected by the current situation is a key priority.
Mike Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the EFL Trust, said: “Our Club Community Organisations have continued to be both outstanding and vital in their local communities over the past few weeks. They have set up call centres for participants to engage with them, delivered thousands of food parcels to those most in need and considered the physical and mental health of their participants through new online fitness, education and support systems.
“Nationally, as well as locally, we are working with key partners to ensure that our programmes such as NCS, FIT FANS, Joy of Moving and our University of South Wales degree courses continue to be delivered to the participants whose lives will be enhanced by the support. We are proud to represent such a powerful network - more so than ever at this time.”
ConnectSport is grateful to the EFL Trust for kindly allowing us to reproduce this article. Read the original publication here.