Derby County are joining 31 EFL clubs as part of a major new programme to tackle loneliness among older people.

The EFL Trust are proud will be receiving £810,000 from the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) to support EFL Club Community Organisations in 32 deprived locations across England with the aim of connecting more older people at risk of loneliness.

A recent study from the Office National Statistics (ONS) showed that 2.6 million adults reported that they felt lonely "often" or "always" whilst 7.4 million adults reported their wellbeing had been affected through their having felt lonely in the past seven days.

The EFL Trust network has a history of working with people across all generations and have a track record of connecting the people who need it most.

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 CCOs 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.”

Last year the Trust launched the Extra Time Hubs movement, to engage retired and semi-retired people to combat loneliness and inactivity. Funded by Sport England, through the National Lottery, the first pathfinder Hubs are run at 11 EFL clubs.

Tony Ward, a Derby County Community Trust participant, has become a volunteer for the group after describing a lonely period in his life, and the support he found from Derby County.

He said: “In 2016 my life was at a low ebb. I had retired from a very fulfilling job in education. I thought my life would involve the normal things retirement brings; family, friends, a couple of holidays and plenty of time in the garden. However, things didn’t work out as I anticipated. A sudden, and to me, unexpected relationship breakdown turned my life upside down and I found myself living alone feeling quite bereft for the retirement I had anticipated.

“After a period of what can only be described as lonely depression I realised I needed to do something. I had come across walking football via a TV advert for a bank and, as someone who had played 5 a-side football until the ripe old age of 59, I thought it might be something I would enjoy. I sought out a local walking football session and duly began playing once a week. I was immediately struck by the friendliness of the people in the group and instantly looked forward to my weekly attempt to conjure up a decent pass or score the occasional lucky goal.

“Now we have the Hub too [Extra Time Hub] the number of friends I’ve made is innumerable and I want to ensure everyone knows who many friendly people are out there and willing to support.”

Recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to ensure that older and more vulnerable fans and members of the community are not isolated have stepped up with groups meeting online, WhatsApp groups being set up and regular phone calls being made by Community teams, players and managers, to check on people’s wellbeing. Our Clubs and CCOs have also made doorstep visits to check in on community members across the country.

Derby County Community Trust are currently providing daily online activities and groups which this new project will aim to develop and support with physical meetings and events when safe and appropriate. You can sign up for the new programme here if you are over 55:

The new grants will allow expanded activities across the country under the campaign ‘Let’s Tackle Loneliness Together’, include befriending phone calls, online social groups, a pen-pal scheme, social action from young people taking part in NCS and socially distanced ‘garden gate’ conversations to emerge across EFL communities and reach the people who need this vital support right when they need it the most.

The EFL Trust will also be one of a number of charities and business across the UK who will join 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.