SAFC SET TO TACKLE LONELINESS

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The official charity of Sunderland AFC, the Foundation of Light, is joining 31 EFL clubs as part of a national programme to help reconnect people as the country emerges from lockdown.

A recent study from the Office National Statistics showed that 2.6 million adults reported that they felt lonely “often” or “always”, whilst 7.4 million adults reported their well-being had been affected as a result of feeling lonely in the past seven days.

‘Tackling Loneliness Together’, is led by the EFL Trust and backed by the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). It aims to use people’s passion for football to engage, support and connect older people at risk of loneliness in deprived regions across England.

A £810,000 grant from the DCMS to the EFL Trust to support the project, will be used by clubs across the country to expand the provision currently offered by the EFL Trust’s ‘Extra Time Hubs’, aiming to engage more retired and semi-retired people to an effort to combat the rise in loneliness and inactivity within the older generations.

The programme will now offer befriending phone calls, online social groups, a pen-pal scheme and socially distanced ‘garden gate’ conversations.

Each week there will be a timetable of activities on offer to get involved with, including cookery, fitness, quizzes, bingo, arts and crafts.

Liz Barton-Jones, Head of Health and Wellbeing at the Foundation of Light explained why the injection of funding into the Extra Time Hubs is so important, “Since the launch of the Extra Time Hubs last year, we have provided weekly face to face support to over 50 older people from across Sunderland. The group are really engaged and enjoy taking part in a range of activities including seated exercise, easy pilates, indoor bowls and even boxing. We have come to realise that for some, our weekly get togethers are a lifeline.

“COVID-19 has had such an impact on everyone’s lives, but for some older people in our communities, it meant they become even more isolated as a result of missing out on regular social interactions as clubs and community groups were cancelled.

“Throughout lockdown we have continued support our members and maintain their connection with their communities; be it through a telephone call, delivering an activity booklet or even standing at the garden gate to have a quick socially distanced catch-up over a cup of tea.

“The Tackling Loneliness Together project allows us to continue that work and we are grateful for the funding we are receiving from the EFL Trust and Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It allows us to continue our life-changing work of bringing our communities together to support some of the most vulnerable.”

Mary Egglestone from Seaham has regularly attended Sunderland’s Extra Time Hub and has found it very beneficial.

“One of the biggest things I’ve got out of being in the group is meeting new people, trying different activities, enjoying various sporting activities and most of all having a laugh and a bit of fun.

“Whenever anybody new appears everybody makes them welcome. The thing that springs to mind, when thinking of any activity, is the laughter and fun we always have. The group continues to evolve. I thoroughly recommend it and it’s such a bonus to be linked with Sunderland AFC.”

Talking about the national effort to tackle loneliness, Mike Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the EFL Trust said, “We are proud to have been chosen to be part of this vital mission to support the older people in our communities. We see this as an endorsement of the great work that our club community organisations have done in this area and we know there is so much more that our network will achieve.

“Our Health and Wellbeing team are working hard to match the expertise of our network to the communities where it is most desperately needed and we continue to work with DCMS, NHS, Public Health England and other agencies to ensure we can all build back better after COVID-19.”

The Foundation of Light and the EFL Trust will also join a number of charities and businesses across the UK taking part in the government’s Tackling Loneliness Network, leading the charge against loneliness. The group will explore ways to bring people together to build strong community spirit, with a focus on groups at particular risk of loneliness, and will work to continue these initiatives in the future.

If you would like to take part in the programme or know a family member or friend who would benefit from the service, please register your interest by visiting foundationoflight.co.uk/loneliness

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