Every week, Express FM runs a live show dedicated to news about the Coronavirus in Portsmouth, as Robbie James interviews a range of local people, including politicians, experts, residents and businesses. On 20th May, Robbie spoke to Clare Martin about Pompey in the Community and the impact they are having as an organisation to the residents of Portsmouth. Transcribed by Peta Sampson.
Robbie James: How much, at the moment, are Pompey in the Community (PITC) having to adapt the work you do, or has it made the work you currently do even more vital?
Clare Martin: I think it’s made us realise how important what we do is for the city and how being linked to Pompey is just infinitely valuable. A lot of our coaching work, obviously, has stopped completely, so the majority of our coaching staff are furloughed [and] virtually [all of them are] volunteering for the HIVE.
The HIVE is a voluntary organisation that’s coordinating the Covid response for the city so we’ve opened up our offices, [and] they are now the main store for the food distribution for the city. We’ve been using the Victory Suite at Fratton Park, we’ve got access to the fridge, the Navy have given us a big freezer unit – so we’ve got a mass of volunteers responding to whatever the need is in the city, distributing food and care packages and any other items that are needed anywhere in the city.
I know you’ve been doing a lot of work with Christian Burgess, one of the Pompey players. How did this come about – was there any form of contingency plan that you and the HIVE might work together? How has it progressed?
I think initially in that first day when everything was closing down, we [felt like] ‘Oh, my goodness, what are we going to do now?’ and had a little bit of a panic. The first day was a bit of a meltdown, the second day, literally, one of the HIVE employees just picked up the phone and said, ‘You’ve got a fleet of vans, will you be using them, is there anyway that we can work together?’ It’s just evolved from there.
We are very much joined up with the third sector and other charities in the city anyway, so it was a natural progression, [but] we didn’t realise quite how big it was going to get, quite so quickly. Christian is a trustee of Pompey in the Community so he attends all our trustee meetings and he’s very involved. Again, it was very much Christian picking up the phone and saying ‘Can we get involved?’ and he’s just been the conduit between the squad and ourselves.
It’s not just the players themselves that are involved, it’s also the staff from the football club. Tanya with finance has been volunteering, Kev the kitman does all sorts of pickups for us in his van. Alan Knight has been volunteering with us virtually every day. One of the security guards there, when he’s off and not on shift he comes and volunteers. So it’s been a real joint effort.
I think that when I pick up the phone to the club and say, ‘Can I?’ they’ve almost said yes before I’ve asked the question – so long as it’s safe and doable. So yes, complete Pompey family, just motivated and trying to do all that we can, whilst trying to keep Pompey in the Community alive and well, and ready to deliver as soon as we can.
Tell us about what you are channelling your resources toward. What is the main aim at the moment or is it changing day-on-day?
The HIVE is taking referrals for all sorts of things, whatever the need is. They are doing all of the pharmacy deliveries through one organisation; people who can’t get out or haven’t got any money to buy food phone The HIVE and say, ‘I’m in desperate need’. We [then] put a food parcel together and [it] goes out to that person or family. It can be baby nappies, baby milk, sanitary items and [so on]. We are just responding to the need but the most incredible thing is the way that the rest of the community has come together.
The Queen’s Hotel are cooking 150 meals, three times a week that go in some of the food parcels. PMC, the big club sponsor, is purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables to go into the food parcels. Landport Community Centre – you may have seen the players cooking with them – they are opening their kitchens, [and] using a lot of donations to create meals. They are actually moving that into our kitchen classroom next week because Landport is closed (apart from the kitchen) and we are open and not using our kitchen so it makes sense to combine the two.
And then donations are coming in, a massive amount of donations. In fact today, Brittany Ferries, they are obviously not running as many ships, if any – all of their chocolate stores have come in so we can include that in food packages. The Akash cooked curries that have gone in the food packages. The players themselves have made donations and put together care packages for our wheelchair-using season ticket holders [and] took those out to fans last week.
It’s been a real joint effort. We’ve put in a few funding bids, The HIVE have put in a few funding bids and the City Council are obviously having to purchase some of this food, because it’s all got to come from somewhere.
It’s amazing to listen to how many people are finding ways of chipping in. How long do you think this will go on for and do you think this is sustainable? Is this how communities will work [in the future]?
I think it will evolve, we’ve noticed a change already. To start with, [we were] taking food to people who were isolated and shielding, whereas now it’s moved to people who have either lost jobs or just can’t afford to buy food. I think it is going to evolve more into a sort of poverty response rather than necessarily a Covid-19 response.
I think Pompey as a city [is probably] more joined up than most. I’m part of a foodbank app we run through our kitchen classroom for food waste and small food parcels for our clients. It’s just got a lot bigger to what we normally do, but there is always that need in the city and I think it’s just working more publicly at the moment. The food banks are still busy, they are much busier than they’ve ever been. A lot of the churches have had a call to action, but the soup kitchen and the meals for those that are really vulnerable can’t operate in the same way so everybody has had to change the way they work in order to respond. The homeless are now rehoused temporarily and they’re all being fed as well. A lot of the donations [coming] in help keep those people well fed and looked after.
So it is a massive response from the city. It will continue. As for as how long, it obviously depends on – like everything else – whether there’s a second spike. If we go back into lockdown or [it’s] more strict, then we’ll probably have to up things again. Otherwise, we’re probably looking to start delivering in the community again in September, if we are lucky enough to be able to do that.
We are still in a few schools. We’ve got some of our coaches volunteering in schools, [and] some are still working in schools with the key workers, but primarily, that side of things has stopped completely at the moment. We’ve moved a lot online: a lot of activities and sessions for children, competitions, youth boards to talk and share ideas, and Fifa tournaments. Dominos Pizzas have been brilliant, they provide prizes and give us pizzas a couple of times a week that we can utilise, either in the food parcels or for prizes for kids and things – that’s been great too.
Pompey in the Community [also delivers] educational programmes to, I think, over 8,000 students annually. Of course, we’ve had so much talk about professional football, when that is going to start up, and the effect that will have on professional athletes. What effect do you see [the pandemic] having on grassroots sport, and from an educational point of view?
I think it is going to have a real impact.
[They say] it takes five weeks to make a habit and you can break a habit a lot quicker. One of our concerns is that when we do go back, people will have become used to being less active and that will continue. I know some people have become a lot more active, but for a lot [of others], whether they will pick up in the same way, we just don’t know.
Educationally wise, we still run our BTEC programme. In lockdown, same as all the other schools, that went online so all of our young people are being taught remotely. We’ve got our degree programme that’continuing remotely, so all of that is still going on.
As far as our grassroots and development teams, my lad plays in our under 14s and we had a Zoom quiz on Monday to keep them in. They’ve been sent training programmes to try and keep them fit and active and [to help them] feel like there is something exciting waiting round the corner. [When we restart] it will be very similar to how it was but perhaps [with a] bit of a delay in getting the season started. I’m not 100 percent sure.
After all of this, getting people fit and active again is going to be massive, which takes us onto another project: Moneyfields and developing the pitches there. [It’s] going to be even more challenging [to] find that money in the current climate but as a city, we’ve really got to do [that]. We’ve got a shortage of facilities and places for young people and older people to go and train.
What advice would you give to parents that are worried about their kids losing the competitive aspect of teams sports? Football is perfect for working together. What advice would you give to parents that may be trying to keep that within their children?
Just get your kids talking, I think talking is the one thing that is absolutely vital at the moment.
Whether they pick up the phone to their mates, whether they train when they are on a Zoom call, [or] whether they are doing something together at the same time. People are watching films together and talking about it whilst they’re on the phone!
I think that’s the most important thing because everybody feels they’re on their own at the moment. I think just that little bit of interaction makes them feel everybody is going through the same thing.
You’re right, football and sports are competitive, and when you are on your own, there’s no one that you feel you are competing with. With Fifa online, it’s only a game but just that interaction and buzz is so important. My lad plays for two different teams and he’s a ball boy at Fratton Park and it’s like half of his life has been sucked away at the moment. [I’m] just trying to keep him engaged and enthusiastic and happy.
I think with the learning, it becomes a battle. I think keeping them happy and positive is probably the most important thing we can do at the moment.
This article was transcribed from Express FM’s weekly Coronavirus Special podcast, 20th May 2020, and has been edited for clarity and length.