Southend United Community and Educational Trust have been committed to supporting older people in their community for a number of years through their Senior Shrimpers programme. They successfully obtained funding through the English Football League (EFL) Trust and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in July 2020 for their Tackling Loneliness Together project, which has boosted their work and helped create new links and partnerships as well as strengthen those already in place. The aims were to provide effective, targeted relief for individuals at risk of loneliness as a result of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, they have offered the following activities:
- Face to Face – Walking football/golf sessions and social cafés, run by staff and volunteers and include a mix of quizzes, games, and information.
- Virtual – Sporting Memories sessions started with PFA and ex-players.
- Telephone support – Befriending calls providing reassurance and companionship, as well as practical advice and signposting.
- Postal – Monthly newsletter for available services linking with partners and good news stories.
Between July 2020 and March 2021, they reached over 700 older people, giving them about 300 hours of support.
Working with multiple partners has been crucial when supporting some individuals. When speaking to them on the phone or during a garden gate visit, other information can come to light that may not be picked up by family members or medical personnel. These conversations have allowed them to access the network within the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and primary care settings, providing support such as organising further medical appointments or liaising with occupational therapy.
Since March 2021 they have been able to source additional funding from the Essex Community Foundation to add new elements to their work. They want to continue to develop this area of work, combining both social and physical activities as well as a continued focus on supporting participants to become volunteers, to aid both the delivery and sustainability of their programmes.
When restrictions started to lift in June 2020, Southend Borough Council approached the Trust for help in welcoming back visitors to the high street, which saw some staff volunteer their time as COVID marshals. In February 2021 and in association with the Council, staff volunteered their time to help distribute Fit & Fed boxes to local families and community groups. In March Trust staff volunteered to assist local secondary schools for two weeks, mass testing pupils for COVID-19 ahead of their return to school.
Over the course of the last 20 months, they have worked with a number of organisations on delivering the projects and associated activities, including:
- South Essex Older People Advocacy Service (Hello Life)
- Social Prescriber Link Workers
- Southend Adult Voluntary Service
- Age Concern & Age UK
- Sheltered Housing and Probation Service
- Southend Library Service
- Southend Borough Council
One of the participants said: “Through regular visits to the cafés, we have formed our own social group and are now firm friends. It has been great to get out and socialise again. I also decided to try out the golf sessions, something which I have never tried before but I love it and try and attend every week where I can”.
Frank Banks, a former Southend United player, volunteers at the cafés, walking football and golf events, and understands the importance of supporting older people: “Being 75 myself, I know what it’s like to just have everything stop and not have anything to do. It is so important that we all have someone to talk to or just distract us from everything that is going on at the moment. The uptake from people has been really great to see, from our older supporters to people who have been introduced to us through the programme, it’s always nice to feel like you are part of something and hopefully we’ve managed to help some people.”