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Social isolation, food poverty and wellbeing were soon identified as the three main areas of need in the local community when the lockdown begun last March.
Understanding the positive difference the free lifeline-sessions the LFC Foundation and Red Neighbours make, as well as the potential impact on the mental and physical health of the children, families and elderly participants without them, meant maintaining face to face participation was essential wherever possible. As the grip of the virus progressed, taking this provision online was crucial.
This year has seen 800 free virtual sessions delivered. Every grassroots football, physical activity and sports-related session has gone online with over 7000 participants in the last 12 months. And the LFC Foundation has supported 69 schools across the Liverpool City Region, helping teachers and children to stay active and motivated whether they be in school or home schooling.
Matt said: “The impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of communities as a result of the last year is unlikely to see its own peak for some time yet. We knew some people would find it tough to suddenly go from a few sessions a week in-person to purely virtual participation, and especially the kids and elderly members of our communities.
“The work we have done around children’s mental health within the LFC Foundation recognises that grassroots sports sessions do have an impact on the wellbeing of young people and need to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
“Taking that step into virtual delivery has certainly had its benefits. Our programmes are now accessible to so many people who might not have been able to come down to a sessions before and it’s certainly something we will continue with when the world returns to some sort of normality.”
For the more senior members of the community, the move to a virtual world of provision has certainly been a positive experience.
Chair-based yoga used to take place once a week at Anfield but the pandemic moved this provision online too. Seeing what was coming down the track, the club created workshops teaching elderly participants how to video conference and soon the demand for more yoga had bumped the classes to three times per week – not only improving wellbeing but an avenue for new and old friends to keep in touch and continue to share their life experiences.
“I know several of our yogis have commented on how the pandemic has actually helped with their yoga practise! They’ve done more sessions than they would have before meaning they’re stronger and steadier on their feet,” said Matt.
With a growing elderly population, Anfield community has long suffered with aspects of social isolation – something Red Neighbours’ walking football, chair-based Yoga and the pure joy of the over 50s Monday club sought to appease.
Now amidst the pandemic, the problem of isolation has only been exacerbated and has welcomed even more members to its club than ever before. It became clear there was a need for a ‘virtual cuppa’ service long before the on-set of COVID. The service was in the pipeline but the pandemic brought the immediacy of that need to the fore.
Since it was launched in March last year, LFC Connect has made over 1400 calls. Staffed by club employees who volunteer their time to have a friendly chat with members of the community who are either cut off from family or friends, or isolating to keep themselves safe. In the past 12-months the service has clocked up over 400 hours of conversations.
Safeguarding trained, the volunteers have referred vulnerable members of the community to external agencies, celebrated birthdays and comforted when times have been tough, and even welcomed Jurgen Klopp, Andy Robertson, Virgil Van Dijk as well as countless former players, as volunteers on the phones.
Club partners have offered an extra line of defence with social isolation too. Official men’s grooming partner, Nivea donated iPads to local care homes so that residents could stay connected to loved ones and organised a surprise call from LFC Captain Jordan Henderson and teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the process. And Joie pulled off the ultimate substitute teacher prank with Andy Robertson and Thiago Alcântara to put a smile on the faces of our Premier League Primary Stars pupils.
“A period in our lifetime like no other has created a vacuum in our communities which has left people hungry, struggling with their physical and mental wellness and deteriorating without human contact.
“We all know the impact of a friendly voice at the end of the phone, but if that was the only person you’d spoken to that day or even that week, that impact will be hugely amplified. LFC Connect has filled a void for many people but enabled our staff volunteers to get to know the issues facing our community so much better in the process.”
Battling food poverty has been a core theme of activity for the club’s Red Neighbours team since it began four years ago. By facilitating foodbank collections at each game with Fans Supporting Foodbanks the small team has collected 37.5 tonnes of food for families in need.
When games were paused, the impact on foodbank collections posed an immediate threat to the people that relied on the donations to feed their families.
“Access to food and the ability to feed your family is something many people take for granted but the need is ever-present and reliance on foodbanks has certainly increased since the beginning of the pandemic. Ensuring foodbanks were well-stocked from the outset was a core priority of our community response work from the very beginning,” added Parish.
In the last 12-months, almost £320,000 has been raised thanks to the generosity of fans to support foodbanks and 15.5 tonnes of food has been donated during the pandemic alone. Fifteen community pantries have been introduced around the Liverpool City Region with the support of the club and its partners which will provide a sustainable long-term option and a dignity of choice for those who will continue to carry the burden of the pandemic with them for years to come.
For the LFC Foundation and Red Neighbours programme, their wealth of pre-COVID community work is almost a distant memory when faced with the growing strain on families across the city, yet it is this embedding within its communities which has enabled it to be so responsive when faced with a crisis of this size.
Parish concluded: “Even before the pandemic struck our work across all of the communities we support was absolutely required and I think it’s these long-standing relationships which enabled us to react quickly as the inevitability of the pandemic developed, to prop-up those areas where we knew people would need it most.
“Although we’re immensely proud of our staff and volunteers for wrapping their arms around the community to this extent, none of these achievements from the past year are to be celebrated. They are a heart-breaking reflection of the devastating impact the pandemic has had on our people and reinforce the reason we all go to work every day.”
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