Tigers Trust leads united resolve to support the vulnerable
The football for good organisation teams up with local partners to help fight the effects of COVID-19
With the prospect of football’s return remaining in the dark, football for good organisation Tigers Trust has emerged from its usual terrain to provide Hull with a different kind of football fix.
Since regular football activities were suspended due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the community arm of Hull City has been delivering food and supplies across Hull and East Yorkshire – providing support to local food banks, homeless shelters, the elderly, and NHS frontline staff.
For many of society’s most vulnerable, stuck in self-isolation, their needs are now behind closed doors.
To help, Tigers Trust staff have done everything from picking up and transporting health prescriptions and medication, to food shopping, walking dogs, and even making cups of tea.
Over the Easter weekend, for some members of the local community, “this was the only food they were able to get,” said Catherine Bishop – Tigers’ Trust Chief Executive.
“In normal circumstances we interact face-to-face with roughly 25,000 people per year.”
“We’re usually very busy, but this has been a different kind of busy to what we’ve ever seen before.
“We’ve had to divert and flex our boundaries, in terms of community support, because there’s a different need right now and we’re responding to that.”
Ordinarily, playing football and sporting activities are at the core of the countless hours spent by staff in the community, tackling a wide range of issues. At the fore of which is promoting social inclusion.
Their efforts – helping change the fortunes of people from a city with some of the country’s most deprived areas – are spread across more than one hundred local primary and secondary schools from serving young school children, to displaced refugees, the elderly, the socially disengaged and to those suffering from disabilities.
Yet, with play suspended, they are proving football serves a greater purpose than being on the pitch.
In the immediate aftermath, for young people they serve from families eligible for free school meals – an indicator of deprivation and poverty – food parcels were packaged up and delivered.
Likewise, “one of the first activities to be cancelled was the twice-weekly walking football sessions,” said Bishop. Due to the fact over 70s are classed as more vulnerable and most prone to catching the virus.
“Now for some of these men and women it’s their only form of weekly socialising.”
Instead, walking footballers are able to put their football brains to the test through an online quiz, as yet another example of newcomers to virtual platforms like Zoom.
More so, it represents Tigers Trust’s commitment not to lose the strong connection it has with so many.
“I think as an organisation using football the perception sometimes is that you're about sport and only sport,” Bishop added. “What I've said to the team is: we're about communities.
“Football is a method of engagement. In Hull, it means a great deal to a lot of people.
“We wear the badge of the club proudly and there’s a different kind of respect that goes with that.”
Tigers Trust’s ability to quickly identify where help has been needed most is down to forging close ties over the last year with local authorities, the NHS, and other charitable organisations.
In terms of a united response, the value of these relationships has paid huge dividends during the crisis.
“We’ll get a call from a community centre running a food bank, local NHS Clinical Commission Groups, or Hull Crisis Support Response and the East Riding Crisis Response units [homeless shelters], saying: ‘This supermarket has surplus food, can you arrange it?’” said Bishop.
“In a way we were prepared because we've got the contacts. We can ring people up and they'll work with us because they know we'll do our bit and they'll do their bit. And, together, you do a lot more.
“We’re covering Hull as a city, which has a huge need and that’s going to increase.
“The level of deprivation was high and is likely to be a lot higher, so when those people needed our help before, they need it even more now.”
The scale of the effort has required great dedication and commitment from the small team of staff still able to work. At points, they’ve co-ordinated a delivery of fresh produce weighing over six tonnes to Hull Royal and Castle Hill hospitals.
While Kayleigh – the organisation’s Social Inclusion Manager – has covered more than 200 miles over the last week in one of the two Tigers Trust vans being put to good use.
Beyond the sheer effort, the nature of the work at times requires the ability to befriend and provide mental support in such a challenging time.
Every other day, the team leads meet virtually with their team and remain in constant, daily contact to check in with each other.
“The need to keep them on board is vital, especially because of the speed of which things are changing, the unknown, and the risk of people feeling isolated being very real,” said Bishop.
Stories of feedback from the local community stretch from the surreal, to the heart-warming, and, at times, the very emotional.
The 30-day challenges set by coaches to keep young people stimulated at home have been a great success. For 12-year-old Oskar, his attempt at the Washing Line challenge in his back garden gathered praise from the club’s first team manager, Grant McCann.
“For some people in isolation, our help – whether it’s a phone call, a delivery, or making them a cup of tea – has been the only support or form of contact for maybe a couple of weeks, ” said Bishop.
“There have been some tears,” said Bishop. Even from a physical distance.
“Due to our connection to the club, people might assume that we’ve got to be cash rich, but we’re not. Like most charitable organisations, we operate on finite resources.
“We don’t do it for money and bonuses because that doesn’t feature in our work. We do it because we care and want to make a difference and that’s it.
“Take the walk we did with Roary [club mascot] last weekend, the staff said simply seeing the smiles on faces made it all worthwhile.
“It’s a little thing but, right now, it’s a massive thing.”
When this “nightmare” ends, Bishop hopes the organisation can build on this integrated approach to ensure yet further sustainable impact in the community. She wishes the organisation can leave this crisis as a credible community organisation, rather than isolated in “our own football kingdom.”
For now, Tigers Trust team will continue to operate week by week, doing what they can to help where they are needed until life returns to normal. Whenever that is, and whatever that may look like.