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West Ham project helps combat loneliness

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 December 2016

Enjoying a guided tour of the West Ham ground at the London Stadium.

Enjoying a guided tour of the West Ham ground at the London Stadium.

Archant

When West Ham United fans chant “I’m forever blowing bubbles”, they really mean it.

Yelling instructions from the benchesYelling instructions from the benches

Now an innovative project, called Any Old Irons, is helping lifelong fans, many who have followed the club since they were in short trousers, to make friends. All in an effort to prevent older people becoming isolated and lonely in later life.

In its first year, the scheme puts fans in touch with each other to share memories of their club and the beautiful game.

For Stephen Maynard, 67, a member of the first group to take part, the project has made a big difference to his life.

The retired postroom worker, who has been following the side since he was five years old, said: “They do a brilliant job making a lot of older people happy.”

Coming through the tunnel into London StadiumComing through the tunnel into London Stadium

“I’m just loving it,” he added.

Explaining the importance of the scheme, Sally Maclachlan from Friends of the Elderly said: “We know there are activities for older people, but it can be harder for older men to find things they are interested in.

“Many men like to have an interest in common. Football gets people coming along.”

The charity, one of the oldest in the country supporting older people, joined forces with the West Ham Foundation to set up the project which is open to up to 20 fans aged 65 and upwards.

In the changing roomsIn the changing rooms

On the programme, fans have already met famous faces from the club including coach Julian Dicks and goalkeepers Darren Randolph and Adrian. They also enjoyed a guided tour of West Ham’s new London Stadium home in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Speaking about the project’s success, Julian Dicks said: “Any Old Irons helps keep vulnerable fans connected; it’s great to see so many supporters from different generations bonding over our club and their shared memories.”

And Sally agrees: “It’s just amazing to see people’s faces light up when they come along and for friendships to grow over the weeks.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Once the five weeks finish people stay in touch and that is the legacy of the project.”

A guided tour of the London StadiumA guided tour of the London Stadium

The club’s move from its Boleyn Ground also underlines the importance of the project, with West Ham keen to preserve its history.

Funded by the Football Association, Professional Footballers’ Association, West Ham Foundation and the charity, the money is awarded to clubs who then put it to use helping people who are most in need within their communities.

And according to Friends of the Elderly, the demand for such schemes is growing, with 34 per cent of people in Newham over the age of 65 saying that they experience loneliness. The charity reports that over a million people in the UK say they often feel lonely, with those aged 75 or more being especially vulnerable.

For Maria Abraham, health manager at the West Ham Foundation, there are many benefits to the scheme with participants gaining online skils which will help them connect with people.

And with plans underway for West Ham’s under 23s to meet the group this week, there will be opportunities for the youngsters to learn about some of the legends of the past.

“It’s quite exciting for younger people to meet people who saw Bobby Moore play,” she said.


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