Lifelong Derby County supporter and Community Trust participant Tony has spoken of the importance of Clubs to their local communities, after a Rams project changed his life for the better.
Having joined the Rams’ walking football team and the EFL Trust Extra Time Hubs - which are aimed at combatting lonliness and inactivity among retirees - he described his life as being "full of activity, support and camaraderie".
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic meant the group could no longer meet, Tony took it upon himself to ensure those involved kept in contact.
"I remember saying really early on, when we were no longer allowed to meet, that we needed to have some kind of contact," he said. "I set up a WhatsApp group called ‘Beat the Boredom’ and we invited everyone involved in the Hub to engage with that."
"Initially, you’ve got to make the connection that you can make and I’d actually come across Zoom even before we went into lockdown! I’d had a hip operation so wasn’t playing football, and since then we’ve been running a Hub for close to 40 weeks.
"I run a book and music hub for people who have come through the EFL projects, and my partner runs a ‘knit and natter’ club too, which is also connected back. We’ve even done virtual disco nights with myself as DJ! I write two quizzes a week and think I’m sometimes more busy now than I ever was before."
The 'rule of six' gave Tony and the other participants a reprieve, allowing them to play small-sided games of walking football on a weekly basis, but he fears that such schemes could ultimately be lost to the pandemic, should Clubs' community branches suffer.
"Clubs could lose things like the Hub if they lose their Community Trusts," he added. "These things could go to the wall at some point if money stops coming in, so I think they’re really important.
"I know the EFL are supporting the Hubs quite significantly; we get 25-35 people per week and sometimes more, and the people really do enjoy and look forward to it. The appreciation people have is excellent, it’s vibrant and more than just a talking shop, we have activities all the way through it and it does well.
"I think Clubs are massively important to their communities, and I’m not just saying that. The different programmes they do, for people with disabilities, for people who are recovering from illness or addiction, for people in education... a lot of people don’t realise how much of the community they touch. I’m sure it’s the case right across the country. The people recruited to work on these things, they’re people who don’t go to work for the money."
Tony's is one of many similar stories across the nation, which serve to highlight the impact of EFL Clubs in their respective local communities. In his case, Derby's community activity brings him fun, friendship and hope, things we can all take for granted.
"To be honest, walking football and the Hub have given me so many friends that I never had before," he concluded.
"I had a tough time in my early 60s and I’m 70 in two weeks time, but finding the community events, getting on the Derby County teams and the committee – it’s about more than just the event itself.
"The community projects are about outreach and it means I don’t have to sit around now, wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow. There’s always something I could be involved in and, from my point of view, it’s made lockdown tolerable and even enjoyable."
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