“It’s what we do, we are set up to serve our community,” says Joe Goude, Stevenage FC Foundation’s Chief Executive. However, it’s a statement that makes light of how, in a matter of hours, the charity attached to Stevenage FC went from serving the community in its usual way, to being a key part of the response to COVID-19.
Goude says: “The social distancing ‘stay at home’ rules obviously meant that overnight our education programmes, school provision, health and wellbeing and inclusion programmes could no longer operate in their normal way. However, Phil Wallace, the club Chairman, was on the phone straight away, he recognised that our community would need us more than ever in the coming weeks and he tasked us with helping them through the difficult times ahead. ”
The club and the Foundation moved quickly and by Monday they had four initiatives up and running: Community Careline, a phone line for vulnerable members of the community; Community Kitchen, a food delivery service; an initiative to supporting local foodbanks and a community errand running service, such as collecting and delivering prescriptions.
Goude explains how they could move so quickly, adding: “We already had connections with the local foodbank so it was matter of getting in touch to see what we could do.
“As we are already working with many vulnerable members of society and have partnerships in place with many local organisations, providing a Community Care phone line seemed like the logical way for us to stay in touch and link people with the organisations that can help them.”
Even the food delivery service, which would seem to be a long way from a Community Foundation’s normal operation, was set up overnight.
Goude continues: “We already have a long-running initiative called ‘Community Kitchen’ where we teach people with young families how to cook healthy meals. We immediately adapted this provision into a food delivery service. We now make 100 sandwiches each day and deliver them to vulnerable people in the community.”
The deliveries have proved a lifeline for many vulnerable people, and Goude talks about one case in particular.
“The chairman got an email for a lady in Reading, thanking us for what we are doing. Her elderly mother lives in Stevenage and she’s been unable to get a supermarket to deliver any provisions until April. She said the sandwiches that we deliver were ensuring she had food to eat and that we were ‘keeping her mum alive’. Naturally, we made a delivery of basic provision to her mum the next day to ensure she had enough to get by.”
If the overnight transformation of the Foundation's activity was not impressive enough, things got even busier when the BBC covered Stevenage’s activity.
Goude says: “It made more people aware of the services and there was a step up in the levels of activity.
“Calls to the Community Careline increased and we started make more deliveries. We were also put in touch with Lister Hospital whose frontline staff were struggling to find to time eat properly.
“We now make a daily delivery of sandwiches to the hospital, so at least their hard-worked staff can get something to eat.”
The public have got behind Stevenage’s efforts too, and the Foundation started a fundraising page to ensure they could continue the hospital deliveries.
“The target was £6,000 and within a matter of days we had £7,500, so we can continue this in the foreseeable future," Goude adds.
“The deliveries to the vulnerable can also continue, for as long as they need to, because the players have stuck their hands in their pocket to fund these with the money that would have paid for their food at the training ground.”
Despite being busier than ever, Goude reiterates it was only what the Foundation was set up to do, adding: “There are a lot of people involved in this effort and a lot of partnerships in place. We’re not the experts, we’ll just fill the gaps where we can. We are working closely with the local authority. We want to be doing the right thing and not getting in the way.
“I say quite honestly to the local authority just let us know if there’s something you want us do and conversely if there’s something we are doing that others can do better.
“For example, the aim of the Community Careline is to refer people to where they can get the right help.
“We’re not a counselling service or looking to provide all the answers we are just there if people want to chat - some people are just more comfortable talking to a football club. However, if they need further help we know where to refer them.
“Our Chairman said it best, 'our fans are there for us week after week, now it’s our turn to be there for them'.”