Here for U's helps showcase year-round, ongoing work of Cambridge United Community Trust
Unsung heroes have been thrust into the spotlight during the current crisis.
The work of Cambridge United Community Trust has often been mentioned in passing, but has largely gone unheralded.
The charitable arm of the football club is now in its 10th year – which would have been celebrated at the now cancelled gala dinner – and its work has been noticed more than ever.
As families began to self-isolate, it launched the Here for U’s campaign, starting a phoneline to offer assistance and reassurance to the community.
As restrictions tightened, the work of the trust became wider reaching, moving much of its work and activities online to still provide everything it had before and cooking then delivering meals from their base at the Abbey Stadium to assist Cambridge Sustainable Food and the Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with the feedback and the requests to volunteer,” said Sam Gomarsall, the community trust manager.
“Across the board, whilst the vision hasn’t changed, the means by which we deliver that vision has changed and has changed necessarily by this crisis.”
There are so many different facets to their work in so many different sectors that largely go unnoticed to the majority but are invaluable to the minority.
It is just that now the efforts and dedication of primary education manager Ashley Dyer, community liaison officer Simon Wall and disability sport officer Phil Mullen are reaching a far wider audience.
“For example, within education obviously we can’t go into schools but what we can do is create online videos,” said Gomarsall.
“We’ve had videos across three topics, so maths, science and English.
“Within English, the mini-match reporting project has gone online, getting children to write match reports about their garden football match in order to teach them basic writing skills but perhaps inspire them to be a journalist one day.
“We got some really nice feedback on that one. One teacher I know said that it had managed to get their reluctant writers picking up a pencil and having a go, and it was also managing to engage the family in their learning activities as well.
“I think that is crucial at this time where lots of families are trying homeschooling for the first time and trying to give their kids a structure.
“We have also created education activity packs combining sport and 10 different subjects in fun activities for the children to take part in.
“We have also been delivering those for those that might not have printers, working with the local schools and Cambridge City Council.
“On weekday mornings at 11am, we have our family fitness fun. It’s a 20-minute workout for parents and children to enjoy together.
“A good example of how the work we’ve done hasn’t changed but shifted format – every Wednesday we run a community bootcamp, but we’ve just taken that online and we’ve been managing to get more people than we would have at the actual bootcamp itself, which has been great.
“We have 17 weekly disability sports sessions and for lots of those participants it’s maybe the only time they get to engage with like-minded people.
“There are varying impairments that we work with so lots of the children are young adults with autism so it is a really important time for them to combat some social isolation and be with other young adults that are like them.
“Managing to continue that during this period was something we did very early on.
“A piece of feedback we’ve had from one of the parents of the ambulant cerebral palsy participants said ‘it gives my son the chance to keep connected with his football friends and have a good chat about football but in a really structured and friendly way’.
“I think that summarises what we’re trying to do with those.”
Football club staff who have been furloughed have also offered their services to assist the trust.
It means, for example, the kit man Gordon Millar used his van to help move some furniture across town for a vulnerable family in self-isolation, and the commercial team helping to deliver meals to families in need across the city.
There is also the work they are doing with Cambridge Sustainable Food, the city council, schools and restaurant Pipasha, who have donated 300 meals, to help tackle food poverty with the delivery of more than 1,100 meals to vulnerable families.
“We know that families are going to be struggling financially in this period but also it gives parents the morning off where they don’t have to cook lunch for their family and they can spend more time with their kids, perhaps helping them with their education, and giving their kids structure is really important right now,” said Gomarsall.
“We see every day that the power of sport can make a real difference in our community.
“I think we’re seeing right now that football clubs can be a real hub for the community.
“We believe that sport impacts positively and I think we’re seeing that and have been overwhelmed by positive feedback.”
It is not just the here and now that the trust is focusing on.
They are also assessing how they can help make a difference as the immediate impact of the crisis lessens, and the focus switches to other demands.
“We’re looking at ways that we think areas of our society are going to be really affected by Covid-19,” said Gomarsall.
“For example, we think that children’s wellbeing, both mental and physical, is going to be adversely affected in some level by Covid.
“We’re looking at ways that we can shift our mental health programme to encompass some of the things which young people might be struggling with off the back of Covid – whether it’s social isolation, or confidence or the transition age from Year 6 to Year 7. We’re looking for and trying to develop programmes that combat some of those issues.”
He added: “The work and effort of the trust team has been incredible and I’m proud in all that they have done.”
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More by this authorMark Taylor