Sporting Memories Foundation celebrates after receiving £93k from the National Lottery to tackle rural isolation and loneliness in Suffolk

 The Sporting Memories Foundation has been awarded a national lottery grant of nearly £100,000 to commence a two-year project in Suffolk from the start of June 2019.

The Foundation is the world's first charity dedicated to sports reminiscence and physical activities, supporting older people with dementia, depression and loneliness by engaging them socially and helping to recall memories of watching or playing sport.

Suffolk is already a thriving county for the organisation with six weekly community-based groups established in conjunction with the county councils Most Active County Partnership, 11 care homes delivering sessions in market towns and local hero Terry Butcher (the former England and Ipswich Town defender) a charity patron.

With the £93,546 awarded the plan is to work across rural areas of Suffolk, setting up weekly Sporting Memories clubs among clusters of villages. Four villages within close proximity of each other would then rotate the running of a Sporting Memories club, leading to sessions taking place weekly for beneficiaries. The countywide project will initially focus in the Babergh and Mid Suffolk areas where further support for the project has been received from two local councils, and Suffolk Community Foundation.

The project will engage and reconnect in excess of 250 older people per year over the aged of 50 living in rural areas, have an interest in sport and may have conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease or/and are lonely and isolated.

Should the village cluster model prove successful it will then be rolled out in other rural areas across the country, making Sporting Memories groups more inclusive.

Suffolk has approximately 38% of its population living in a rural area and 28% of income-deprived people live in rural areas.

Many services in rural areas - such as postal services, doctors’ surgeries, public houses, libraries, village shops and dentists - are gradually reducing in number, resulting in increased isolation and loneliness.

Suffolk’s older population is growing and is predicted to have an older population (1 in 3) compared to the rest of England (1 in 4). At present there are 324,179 people aged 50+ living in the county.

Furthermore, Healthy Suffolk estimates suggest that there are 12,800 people with dementia currently living in Suffolk.

This project will meet two of the four priority outcomes in the Health Strategy for Suffolk - older people in Suffolk have a good quality of life and people in Suffolk have the opportunity to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

Sporting Memories will work with local organisations and stakeholders to provide this additional support in Suffolk and engage beneficiaries including libraries, local authorities - both county and district, Suffolk Community Foundation, care homes, local NHS Trusts, Suffolk Sport - the county sports partnership, professional and amateur sports clubs, various local third sector charities and social enterprises working with older people, universities, academies and local schools.

Leeds Beckett University’s Centre for Dementia Research will be conducting an independent evaluation of the project to assess its impact on those who take part and to understand what works around how the project is implemented.

The Centre’s Director, Professor Claire Surr said: “We are delighted to be involved in evaluating this project. We have a long standing partnership with The Sporting Memories Foundation and are committed to supporting them to develop the evidence-base around their work and its impact on those who participate in reminiscence clubs.”

Susie Brindley, Chief Operating Officer of The Sporting Memories Foundation said “ This funding allows us to test out some real innovative approaches with our partners across Suffolk. The existing clubs have proven to have a real impact on issues around loneliness and we are looking forward to testing out ways to connect older sports fans living in rural areas of the county and finding out what works.”

There are more than 120 Sporting Memories groups delivering weekly sessions at present with 75% of them having delivered for over three years and are still going strong.