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Sports day

April 01 2024
A helping hand © Marius Samivicius A helping hand © Marius Samivicius

On a visit to Leyton Orient Football Club, our writer notes the importance of community projects and sports to people struggling during the winter. By Emdad Rahman

Through a network of community organisations and institutions, an entertaining and memorable matchday experience was organised for homeless friends as Leyton Orient Football Club opened its doors during the national festive football programme.

Tickets were provided for homeless people to be guests at the club’s community hub, where they were treated to lunch, refreshments, assorted gifts and a 1-0 home victory for The O’s over their London rivals Charlton Athletic.

Anwar Uddin, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at the Football Association, has forever been a passionate and keen advocate of community support and for several years has sponsored a festive matchday experience at Brisbane Road, Leyton Orient’s home stadium.
Speaking after the game, he said: “It’s tremendous that we, as a caring and compassionate community, have come together to enjoy football as one. Our work to eliminate social barriers and use inclusion as a force for good is also about promoting togetherness and highlighting the need to interact with people who may be struggling with life.

“Thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this happen and well-done Leyton Orient for a smashing home win!”

The club’s Community Liaison officer, Robbie Minchin, added: “We are very much a local club and the welfare of people plays a significant part in how we interact with our neighbours. It’s been a pleasure to host this group at the Brisbane Road.”

Football plays an important role in both supporting and developing a community. Experiencing homelessness is often traumatic and can leave people feeling isolated and othered, struggling for breath at the depth of dark and murky waters. As a progressive society we can, at the very least, lend a helping hand to prevent complete submersion.

For many groups, supporting homeless people through the implementation of a winter programme is a useful way to plan community engagement for the year ahead.   

The winter period is crucial for volunteers, with many groups creatively planning activities to support local homeless people and vulnerable people. This usually involves widespread sharing of resources in order to be able to reach out to as many people as possible. 

Our sporting gestures help lift our community, those struggling with life in general and offer a welcome escape from the harsh realities of life. Our guests at Leyton Orient revelled in being the focus of attention, meeting the club mascots, being hosted in the community hub, offered refreshments and lunch, participating in the pre-kick-off lap of honour, taking penalties on the pitch at half-time and receiving gifts, hats and scarves. 

Football is a great platform for inclusion and a game offers warmth and a welcome escape from certain harsh realities. That goes for disabled people, elderly people, those affected by the cost-of-living crisis as well as homeless friends.

Homelessness is a blight and a sad reflection of the society we live in. Often the people who find themselves sucked into this black hole are victims of circumstances, trauma and mental health breakdowns, loss of earnings, bereavement, separation and divorce, or psychological and physical abuse.

A winter programme, in particular a sporting one, is crucial in helping communities to focus and prioritise those who need a little helping hand.

  • Emdad is on X (Twitter): @emdad07
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