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World Mental Health Day 2021: Foundation initiative to limit isolation and loneliness among older generations

Two lifelong Newcastle United supporters are sharing their gratitude to a Newcastle United Foundation initiative to limit isolation and loneliness among older generations this World Mental Health Day.

Michael Hogg and Rob Waugh were among 11 million over-60s in the UK who faced three lockdowns cut off from the extra care and support many older people rely on daily.

But Football Talks, a Foundation project launched during summer 2020 by the Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing team, offered Michael and Rob the lifeline they needed with an online support group to bring isolated people closer together.

Building on the charity’s popular programmes like Walking Football for over-50s, Foundation staff developed Football Talks – an informal weekly Zoom call where participants could chat, reminisce, catch up and forget about the world around them for a while.

Rob, of Urpeth, County Durham, looked to the Foundation for positivity during a difficult time and the chance to relive the feeling of watching his club play at St. James’ Park.

He said: “When covid hit, I got a notification from the Foundation to say they were doing Football Talks and those sessions make you feel as though you’re part of the club – you feel as though you’re part of Newcastle United.

“It really creates a community spirit because gradually over the months, you’re starting to know more people at the sessions, and they know you too. You really have that bond, that friendship, and that was so vital during covid.

“If I couldn’t do Football Talks or the Walking Football, it would be like someone coming and cutting off my legs, I would feel lost. It’s a bit like a ‘happy pill’ – it makes you feel good.”

Football Talks falls within the Foundation’s Be A Game Changer mental health awareness campaign, which supports the mental and physical wellness of young people, adults and older participants through various programmes.

Last month, the campaign launched a free mental health text support service to provide thousands of North East football fans with confidential wellbeing advice when they need it most.

Michael, a much-loved grandad from Newcastle, who played football religiously until his 50s, also used Football Talks and Walking Football to help ease feelings of loneliness during the pandemic.

He said: “I wasn’t seeing anyone that I would normally see through an average week anymore and that was difficult.

“To be honest, the hardest thing initially was actually working out how to use Zoom! But we got through that and every single week I’d join a Football Talks sessions to see new faces, and we always had something to talk about and someone to talk to.

“It was really important to me, and I know that it made a huge difference to everyone else – if they didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t do it, but we had plenty joining week after week.”

Michael and Rob are sharing their experiences of working with the Foundation in a powerful video released on World Mental Health Day 2021 – an international day for global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma.

As covid restrictions ease, the pair have recently been able to enjoy their first in-person Football Talks session at St. James’ Park alongside 20 other men and women – many of whom were meeting physically for the very first time.

Thomas Graham, Newcastle United Foundation’s Senior Health and Wellbeing Project Officer who hosts Football Talks sessions, said: “We developed Football Talks in July 2020 – it was during one of the worst periods of the covid pandemic and it restricted us all to staying at home.

“We knew that providing the Football Talks opportunity was vital, particularly for the most vulnerable participants who were socially isolated and lived alone and might not have even been able to have a simple conversation each day with no one else to talk to.

“Football Talks has a very special power – we’ve had guys talk about how it’s been like therapy for them and we often have participants say they wish they’d got involved with the Foundation sooner.

“It is incredibly rewarding to be part of and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone involved with our sessions at Newcastle United Foundation.”

The Foundation’s dedicated Be A Game Changer webpage and social media shares tips on keeping physically and mentally healthy, signposts to support for yourself or a friend, and a space to tell the stories and experiences of Magpies supporters.

The campaign is funded by Newcastle City Council, North East and North Cumbria Suicide Prevention Network, Premier League Charitable Fund, and The National Lottery Community Fund, helping provide mental wellness-boosting sessions like Sleep and Stress workshops, Walking Football for older players of the game and Peer Support Group meetings at St. James’ Park.

For more information about Be A Game Changer or for help and advice from Newcastle United Foundation, visit nufoundation.org.uk/beagamechanger


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