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Newcastle United Foundation combat loneliness, stress and anxiety with regular telephone calls to walking footballers

Newcastle United Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing team are taking time to telephone all the members of their Walking Football group, all of whom face an extended period of self-isolation during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Many of the participants use the Newcastle United Foundation Walking Football sessions as a method of combatting loneliness: the majority of the group are over the age of 65, and with many living alone and some having not left their accommodation for over 20 days, the current lockdown is proving to be a significant challenge.

While a proportion of the members are dealing well with their new living conditions, many have welcomed the opportunity to discuss their mental health concerns and requested a call-back from one of the Foundation coaches.

Newcastle United Health and Wellbeing Manager, Oliver Bell, said: “It’s been quite an eye-opening experience as you realise how important a phone-call – which you may think isn’t a big deal – can be.”

“We’ve had a real range of scenarios, some of our participants are in great spirits, however there are some who have expressed anxiety around losing work and we’ve been able to give them guidance on employability advice and point them in the right direction for further advice.

“Ultimately, it helps to say things out loud and if you have been worrying about something, just saying it out loud will help and we’re happy to be that person on the other end of the line.”

Newcastle United Foundation last week offered Newcastle’s key NHS workers free mental health resources from their #BeAGameChanger campaign, and they are using similar methods with the walking footballers, including peer support, expert talks, weekly quizzes and basic exercise routines.

Bob Smith, 73, who lives on the 11th floor of a block of flats in Newcastle’s East End, said: “I was delighted when I received the call from the Foundation and it was great to be able to hear a familiar voice as I’m missing the walking football sessions – I normally attend five a week!

“I’m still trying to keep active; I’m kicking my football against the outside wall a hundred times a day with my left and my right foot. I’m making sure I kick it softly with my toes so it doesn’t upset the neighbours! You have to keep going, if I don’t, the next time I get on the pitch I will feel it.

“I also walk from my kitchen, down the small passage, cut into my spare room, walk right to the window, turn around and back again. I do this a hundred times a day as well with my records on and I have to finish before the song does.

“I also have a little step and go up and down it a hundred times, after I’ve finished I can feel it in my legs.

“It’s great to have the Foundation check in and I know a lot of the members will really appreciate it at this challenging time.”

Tony Gibson, 57, who works as a safety steward, said: “I was a bit worried about losing work due to COVID-19, meaning all the shows were cancelled. I was given some really good reassurance from the Foundation over the phone, which put my mind at ease and I was very grateful to have received the phone-call and I can’t praise the Foundation enough.”

He added: “The Walking Football sessions give many of us a chance to socialise outside and it’s also important for us to be able to continue to chat on the social media groups that the Foundation have set up.”


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