GRASSROOTS football coaches are urging people to sign a petition calling for them to continue playing and training through the new lockdown.
Durrington FC had seen their finances boosted by a £5,000 coronavirus fund grant from the Wiltshire Community Foundation and a flood of new players enabling them to start three new teams but are now left with at least a month’s enforced break.
Development officer Stuart Andrews, who is also responsible for the club’s Covid response, said: “It is all very frustrating, and we don’t want to go back to where we were, and we don’t want to put anyone at risk.
“But with everything our kids have been through during the lockdown, just having football and being part of a team is a massive lifeline. The thought that there will be no more until December is a real blow. It’s not just the kids, it’s the parents as well, coming to train and play is an escape mechanism for everyone, and it is really important.
“Some young boys and girls who literally joined us last week now can’t do anything for a month or even longer.”
The club, which has 200 young people from six to 16 on its books, had been celebrating the grant from the community foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund, which has raised £1.2 million and distributed £925,000 through more than 200 grants to groups across the county.
Mr Andrews said: “During the first lockdown we reduced our fees by 50 per cent to help families, many of them are on low incomes. But we still had to pay our rent to Avon Valley College where we play and cover things like insurance. Just starting up for the season cost £1,500 and we had to find an extra £1,000 we didn’t have for sanitiser stations and extra equipment we needed to buy to help the kids socially distance.”
The club, which has 60 per cent of its membership from military families, has used the grant towards its rent, buy new kit and equipment and set up a hardship fund for families who can’t afford the subscriptions. “We don’t want to turn anyone away,” said Mr Andrews.
“If we hadn’t got the grant we wouldn’t have been able to replace football strips, we wouldn’t have been able to guarantee we had sufficient funds for the rent for the year and at last one family wouldn’t be coming anymore because they couldn’t afford the fees.
“Without the support of organisations such as the Wiltshire Community Foundation and our sponsors we simply wouldn’t exist and that’s the reality.”
The club has started two new under-sevens’ and a girls’ junior team. It also has plans to launch an adult women’s team. “The standing of the club has gone up quite considerably in the last couple of years,” said Mr Andrews.
More than 70,000 people have already signed the change.org petition calling for grassroots football to continue. “Football is really important for the wellbeing for the wellbeing of the young people,” said Mr Andrews. “Just see the smiles on children’s faces when they turn up to training or football.
“It doesn’t matter if they are under-sevens or under 16s, right across the who club you can see a group of boys and girls having a laugh, enjoying themselves and playing football and having a good time, which is fantastic for their mental health. They might have had a rubbish day at school or at home, but they come to football in the evening and it is all forgotten.”
The club will be buying each of the 200 members in its 18 teams a football after a deal with equipment manufacturer Macro of Fareham. “We’ll also be organising some challenges for them through the lockdown to keep them active,” he said.
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “Clubs like Durrington are right at the heart of their communities and reach right into the lives of the families they work with. Giving young people the chance to train, play and learn about teamwork and being part of something is so valuable and we are delighted we can support it.”
Find out more about Durrington FC by searching for the club on Facebook. To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.