A community group in Manchester is helping to tackle food poverty by raising money for local foodbanks through playing 5 a-side football.
Football for Foodbanks (FFF) hosts weekly 5 a-side football sessions encouraging people to become more active following the pandemic, while also making vital donations to local foodbanks.
FFF launched in August 2020 in Sheffield, initially just as a weekly 5 a-side group to get people back playing after the first national lockdown, but has now become an established social initiative with a key message at its core.
The premise is simple. FFF charge each player £4 for an hour’s 5 a-side session, initial costs for the pitch hire are covered, and then the funds leftover at the end of each month are collected and used for a shop to give to a local foodbank.
Tom Moore, organiser of the Manchester Division, had originally been a participant in the project in Sheffield just as a way to get back into having a regular kick about.
“I dislocated my knee around 2017 and had fallen out with football and got a bit fed up with it,” Tom said.
“I fancied getting back into it but didn’t feel confident in turning up to a properly competitive league with the injury, so this was a really good opportunity to ease my way back in and get a bit of confidence.”
He became more involved with the organisation, offering his time as a volunteer outside of the 5 a-side sessions, before a move to Manchester for work at the start of this year sparked a desire to expand the FFF project.
While recently, the elite clubs in Manchester have come under fire for their detachment from the local fans, community engagement is at the heart of Football for Foodbanks.
Tom said: “I recognised that it was such a great but simple idea and if I’m moving somewhere, it’s also a good way to meet new people as well.”
“Everyone who has come has found that, after periods of loneliness and isolations, all of a sudden they are meeting 10 or 12 new people each week and it has a real positive effect on their mental health.”
“And as well as getting people active and into football, it has the opportunity for people to get involved in their communities and help out in terms of food poverty.”
In the couple of months the Manchester programme has been running, 60 men and 30 women have attended at least one session, and they have become so popular that it can often be a race to secure a spot for the upcoming sessions.
Sarah Roberts, an attendee at the Manchester group, used to play football at university and was looking for a casual route back into the game.
She said: “I just enjoy playing football and it’s an opportunity to get my skills back in a low-pressure environment, have some fun, and meet some great people.
“I’ve been looking at lots of different 5 a-side groups but what gave me the push is it’s for a good cause, as while I’m keeping fit I’m also helping people.”
Tom is already looking at expanding the programme, adding more nights throughout the week and introducing new locations around the city centre and North Manchester.
“People are desperate to get involved with the project and get active again and the challenge hasn’t been getting the people, it’s been finding the facilities to maintain and build the model,” he added.
However, he was keen to stress that the success of the Manchester programme has only been made possible by the generosity of people in the local community.
Both their venues have offered discounted pitch rates, and partnerships with other grassroots clubs and businesses such have already yielded successful community drives in support of the local foodbanks.
Tom said: “As a result of the partnership work, we were able to donate 50 bags of shopping to Perry’s Pantry Foodbank, who have since told us that the donation allowed them to stay open for another two weeks after they were down to their last £30.”
According to Greater Manchester Poverty Action (GMPA), 620,000 people live in poverty within the GM Area including over 200,000 children living in households with income below the poverty line.
The number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits in Greater Manchester rose by 93% between March and August 2020 and there has been a sharp increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit in each of the city region’s ten boroughs.
% of Children living in Poverty in Greater Manchester by borough (Data from www.endchildpoverty.org.uk)
Football for Foodbanks currently operate two sessions a week in Manchester – Tuesdays at Burnage Rugby Club, and Thursdays at Barlow RC High School. It’s open to all, as Tom says, whether you’ve got a ‘dodgy knee’ like him, or you’ve never played football before, anyone’s welcome.
Details on joining can be found at www.footballforfoodbanks.com or through their Facebook Page