Stars back West Ham fans' group helping people back into work

West Ham United fans Neil Taylor and Danny Panrucker have set up a Facebook group to help people fin

West Ham United fans Neil Taylor and Danny Panrucker set up the Facebook group to help people find and advertise work. - Credit: Neil Taylor

West Ham fans and former stars have united to help fellow supporters who have lost their jobs and are struggling from the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 6,000 people have joined the Hammers for work and support Facebook page, set up by fans to find jobs or talk about the strain the pandemic has placed on their lives.

The group has attracted endorsements from former players Tony Cottee and Carlton Cole, as well as famous fans including author Irvine Welsh, actor Perry Fenwick and TV presenter Ben Shephard.

Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh in Edinburgh

Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh says: "To me West Ham embodies the best of London, a sense of community, a sense of solidarity and they are still doing that in these difficult times.” - Credit: PA

In his video message, Welsh says: “When I first came to London in my teens I was embraced by, not so much a bunch of football supporters, but a real community, people who looked after each other.  

“To me West Ham embodies the best of London, a sense of community, a sense of solidarity and they are still doing that in these difficult times.”

Tony Cottee attending the launch of Rio Ferdinand's autobiography #2Sides, at the Mayfair Hotel in L

West Ham legend Tony Cottee has backed the group. - Credit: PA

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Cottee adds: “We are the only club in the country doing this.”

East London has been one of the areas hardest hit by coronavirus in the UK. In Newham the number claiming Universal Credit has almost tripled since March 2020, with more than 52,000 residents now claiming government benefits.

The page was started nine months ago by lifelong Hammers fans Danny Panrucker and Neil Taylor and is monitored by Alexandrea Clark and Lindsay Hoy.

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Mr Panrucker said he was inspired to set it up after attending a fellow fan’s funeral during the first wave of the pandemic and hearing about people who had lost jobs or been detrimentally affected by the pandemic.

It has helped more than a dozen people back into work, found housing for homeless veterans and given hundreds access to mental health services and support.

“I couldn’t believe how badly some people were struggling. We have a wonderful community fanbase and I thought it would be a good way of getting people together through the love of the club,” said Mr Panrucker, 48.

Mr Taylor said: “Connections are really important, especially at the moment when you can’t go out and people are struggling financially. The page shows everyone they’re not alone.”

Karen Pullen set up mental health charity The Craig Tyler Trust in memory of her son who took his own life aged 22 in 2018.

“Craig was a massive West Ham fan,” Ms Pullen said. “I saw the page and thought what an amazing thing and posted that we were around for support.

“We have been inundated with messages and calls. The worst thing at the moment is the fact that we are not in control. There is no deadline for when we can get back to work or see people.”

Ben Shepherd attending the Pride of Sport awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London.

TV presenter Ben Shepherd is a West Ham fan and has backed the Facebook group. - Credit: PA

In Newham, which still has some of the highest infection rates in the country, some 17,000 people have been placed on furlough. More than 27,000 extra people have had to claim benefits.

Last year Joey Chapman was in danger of losing the boxing club his father Ron set up 40 years ago. The Newham Boxing Club helps disadvantaged people train for minimal fees. But not being able to open put it at risk of closure.

Volunteers on the Hammers page have raised £3,000 to pay the club’s rent. Mr Chapman said: “Knowing it’s safe is a weight off everyone’s minds.”

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