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Albion in the Community connecting people with a disability during lockdown

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Albion in the Community has been connecting with participants from its disability football programme each week during the current lockdown through an online programme designed to bring people together over Zoom and build friendships.

With more than 30 in-person football sessions suspended for the charity’s disability football participants that are usually attended by over 400 people, it has been more important than ever to provide a space for more vulnerable members to link up online.

One beneficiary of this programme has been Joe Campbell, from Burgess Hill.  Joe has been attending football sessions with Albion in the Community (AITC) for over 20 years. Having been born with congenital ataxia and speech and language difficulties, he started as a 10-year-old and has become an important part of the charity’s programme as both participant and a volunteer coach with younger players in Burgess Hill.

When Joe first joined, he was non-verbal and only used sign language to communicate. The sessions proved to be the catalyst for Joe to increase his confidence, develop his speech and opened a whole new world to him of new friendships and being part of a team.

Now, age 30, Joe has faced new challenges during the Coronavirus pandemic, losing so much of the life and connections he has built up.

Joe normally works two jobs in between playing football, as a roofing contractor’s assistant and his beloved paper-round (something he has been doing for many years). Like so many people, he was unable to work during the early part of the pandemic. His Mum, Jools said: “The connection with Albion in the Community at that time was so important for Joe, he lost so much with limitations around work, but it was great for him to see and speak with his friends and coaches.”

Joe is a very social person these days. He has used his paper-round to become more connected with his local community, often doing extra jobs like taking out the bins for his neighbours and Jools puts that growth in confidence and social skills down to his experiences through football with AITC.

During the first lockdown, Joe and his family struggled like so many with the changes. His mum was suddenly working extended hours whilst Joe and his dad were at home unable to do their usual jobs. When AITC introduced their online challenges and Zoom fitness and social sessions in April, Joe quickly became a regular attendee.

Jools explains how important this was for the family: “The sessions gave Joe something to focus on and was a huge support for all of us.  We’ve seen him grow even more as a person and his confidence has developed through attending and making more new friends.”

Since April, Joe has attended over 60 of the charity’s weekly online sessions, making him one of the highest attenders. AITC’s disability manager Paul Brackley said: “It’s been a pleasure for me and a number of the team to reconnect with Joe outside of his usual football sessions. Having been here myself for 11 years, Joe was among the first participants I ever coached and whilst we see each other from time-to-time it’s been fantastic to properly get to know him again.”

The online sessions have proved to be a lifeline to so many of the charity’s participants, not only by keeping them physically active but also connecting them to AITC and their friends. Joe himself commented: “I love AITC and I feel part of the family.”

Having participants like Joe attending regularly online helps to connect everyone with consistent friendly faces so that they can all feel part of that Albion family too.

Paul explained: “We are proud of all that Joe has achieved during his time with AITC but the way he has connected with others through this pandemic and helped support them too has been fantastic. We really look forward to continuing to see him grow as part of AITC for a long time yet and who knows maybe even becoming a coach at the Burgess Hill sessions he has given so much too as a player.

“We’re all looking forward to getting back to in-person football sessions when it is safe and appropriate to do so, but for the time being these online sessions are proving a real life-line for so many of our participants.”

To find out more about Albion in the Community’s football programme for people with a disability email: disability@albioninthecommunity.org.uk or visit: https://www.albioninthecommunity.org.uk/disability-football

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