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Saints in the Community #CharityStories
March 9, 2021

Birth of Saints in the Community

The St Johnstone Community Department was founded in 1992, initially to deliver the SFA Coach Education Programme and develop a network of football coaching courses for children and young people. Recognising the social benefits of sport in improving self-esteem, inspiring children and young people and promoting wellbeing and healthy lifestyles, the scope of activities undertaken by the department began to grow beyond football, involving a variety of projects and multiple stakeholders.

These projects have contributed to the lives of hundreds of people across Perth & Kinross, but in order to meet the diverse range of social needs and grow as an organisation, change was needed. In April 2016, the St Johnstone Community Trust was formed to continue and expand the work of the Community Department. The Trust is a community focused organisation, providing positive life enhancing experiences using sport and football in particular, to help people throughout Perth and Kinross achieve their goals.

A beacon of hope – Covid 19 pandemic

The social benefit of the work of charities like the St Johnstone Trust, often comes to the fore during times of hardship. The Trust’s services have been crucial during the Covid 19 pandemic, helping old and young stay connected and providing vital resources for a multitude of needs.

Like many local charities, the Trust has had to adapt as circumstances change and their ability to provide core services diminishes. When the first lockdown came into force at the start if 2020, one of their first steps was to expand their online offering, providing much needed digital resources for the community, particularly for older people who were isolated.

Facebook groups were set up for vulnerable groups, providing a platform for people to remain connected with the Trust and their community. For older generations affected by loneliness and isolation, they set up weekly online ‘Football Memories’ activities, where fans could take a trip down memory lane with games and quizzes about Scottish players and football events from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.

Special reminiscence boxes and a memory lane activity book where developed to engage the senses and reignite memories of football games from the past. The boxes targeted people in the community living with dementia. They contained a range of memorabilia including a Bovril cup, steak pie, an old football programme, macaroon bar and a crochet brown leather football. Jack Beaton, aged 90 received one of the boxes and said: “the box was very much appreciated… it was just like sitting at McDiarmid Park. I had the pie and Bovril for my tea.”

The activity book was an innovative way to engage with older people and tackle digital poverty. The book contained puzzles, crosswords, ‘guess who’ puzzles related to Scottish Football, giving recipients something to do and talk about with their friends and neighbours.

Perhaps one of the best received of the Trust’s Covid projects, was the befriending call initiative. The concept is simple – phone calls are made to service users to tackle loneliness and maintain connection between the Trust and the community. During the lockdown, St Johnstone FC historians Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle, as well as former St Johnstone greats Gordon Whitelaw and Henry Hall, made calls to Saints fans in the community. The calls have had a major impact to older members of the community.

One of the fans said: “Gordon Whitelaw just phoned me. I’m star struck!  What an absolute gentleman he is. He’s going to send me some photos. This has made my year I can tell you. Cheers.”

And another fan spoke of her grandfather’s experience: “Thank you so much for everything you guys are doing, my grandad was like a new man when I talked to him tonight. Full of chat and stories and delighted with the conversation he had today with Brian. It really does make a difference and he is looking forward to his next blether and trip down memory lane.”

Finding ways to help the community stay healthy and maintain their wellbeing was a primary concern during the lockdown period. The Trust set their Mental Health and Wellbeing players a series of fitness challenges, including the 30 Day 3KM challenge, the Step Count Challenge – jointly organised by the Scottish Mental Health & Wellbeing League – and the Away Days challenge. The challenges encouraged the group to keep active and frequently check-in with the Trust.

Special kit bags were also distributed to community groups. These included a variety of items to encourage physical activity, cohesive family play, distraction and improved mindfulness and wellbeing. Staff organised bag contents specific to each group’s needs and co-ordinated their delivery. Each resource pack included items such as a football, training cones, hygiene products, colouring book and pencils, building toy and craft set. The resource packs provided an important sense of support and relief to these families.

The Trust was recently recognised for all its good work by winning Best Professional Club in the Community 2020. This capped off a tough year, when like many local charities, the Trust has had to adapt to continue provided much needed services to the community. Over the coming months, when lockdown restrictions ease, the Trust aims to start reintroducing its core services, using sport and community activities to bring light, hope and opportunity to old and young.