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Cambridge United Community Trust launch Forever United initiative to help football family

Cambridge United Community Trust (42604157)
Cambridge United Community Trust (42604157)

Sport has never been more important at bringing communities together than during the pandemic.

During the national lockdown, there were many initiatives highlighted but just because the doors reopened – both in a business and private household setting – it did not mean that the efforts to assist the more vulnerable stopped.

Forever United is an initiative run by the Cambridge United Community Trust to support the elderly and those at risk of loneliness through this challenging time.

The U’s joined 31 other EFL clubs as part of a campaign to tackle loneliness among older people, with the trust receiving funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to expand the work further under the campaign ‘Let’s Tackle Loneliness Together’.

Simon Wall, the community liaison officer for CUCT, is leading the work on behalf of the U’s.

Back in the spring, schemes were immediately set up which included a community careline so that if anybody needed help or a chat then they could phone a number to speak to someone from the trust, a weekly virtual afternoon tea was organised so people could see each other face to face and take part in activities such as quizzes and bingo, community activity packs were delivered to senior participants’ houses, and the trust, as part of the Food Poverty Alliance, helped cook and deliver lunches to vulnerable people and families.

“As soon as we knew that our senior participants were having to self-isolate or shield because of Covid – this was in March – we immediately gave them all a phonecall to check how they were and if they needed any support, whether that be phoning them on a regular basis or picking up shopping for them,” said Wall.

“It is sometimes difficult to know if what you are providing is making a difference, but the feedback we’ve had has been overwhelming.

“Having a phonecall from a member of the trust or Cambridge United really did make people’s day and during lockdown some of the participants were quite open about the fact that our virtual afternoon tea was the only thing they had to look forward to during the week.”

It is difficult to gauge loneliness as it is not something that people would necessarily admit to being. But statistics suggest that 45 per cent of of adults in England are occasionally, sometimes or often lonely.

Some of the people that the trust engaged with had underlying health conditions which meant they went months without physically seeing anybody, and it was not just the elderly.

One middle-aged man lived on his own and was shielding in a first-floor one-bedroom flat, and had only left his flat twice in three months.

The trust delivered a weekly meal to the person involved, and all of the work just illustrates how much football can be a force for good.

“Football has the amazing ability of bringing people together in a time of crisis,” said Wall.

“It builds communities and makes them stronger. People talk about a football club being like a family.

“That’s why the trust and the football club support their local community because that’s what family members do.

“A football club has an active audience and with the explosion in the use of social media they can interact and engage with that audience at the touch of a button.

“They also have role models that fans look up to.

“How amazing has it been for fans during lockdown to have picked up the phone and have Mark Bonner on the other end asking how they are?

“Having a kitchen at the Abbey Stadium also meant that we could cook meals that could be delivered to the most needy in the local community. And then there are the amazing band of volunteers connected to the club that are always willing to help.”

The feedback from both fans and CUCT participants has been overwhelming, with anyone one that has been phoned, visited or taken part in an event very grateful.

“It has definitely been a humbling experience for everyone at the community trust,” added Wall.

People can join up to Forever United to receive support – be it phonecalls or activity packs or joining groups on WhatsApp or Facebook – by emailing simon.wall@cambridge-united.co.uk.

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