The latest blog by Sporting Memories Co-founder Chris Wilkins

"COVID has shone a light on loneliness and isolation and ironically, as with treatments and vaccines, has in instances such as ours prompted innovative legacies that will be of real necessity and for the benefit of swathes of our population for years to come."

21 January 2021

While the whole world seems to have been on a COVID roller coaster, as an organisation working predominantly with older people we aware that for an overwhelmingly large number of older, vulnerable people it has been one long and unrelenting period of isolation. We have been doing our best to reach out to our members all through the pandemic, adapting our delivery model with regular phone calls and online activities, as well as, in a few instances, some doorstep and socially distanced outdoor meetings when changing rules allowed.

Fantastic support and flexibility from our existing funders across the UK has enabled Sporting Memories to stay fully active throughout and make the rapid changes that were required. But even in this context, some of our developments – just like the vaccine – take more time and dedication to develop.

We have been conscious throughout the pandemic that many of our Sporting Memories Clubs members either could not engage with online activities, or their conditions meant that these were not suitable. For many, the phone has remained their only contact with the outside world. We also realised that so many of our members were not getting out of their homes, some through those early months of shielding and others through fear and inactivity, and reduced mobility has really taken hold. As a team and working with partners, our members, volunteers and and carers, we have been working on our own longer-term solutions, just like the health sector has been working on COVID treatments and vaccines.

Ironically just as the COVID rollercoaster delivers a new phase of national lockdown, we are ready to distribute the new Sporting Memories #KITbag service and phone circles that we have been busy working on in the background. They are no universal panacea but together they are aimed squarely at the intractable issues of isolation, loneliness and inactivity. As ever, our KITbags and phone circles, along with our online sessions and individual ‘Keep in Touch’ KIT calls, use the hook of sport to engage older people, older sports fans and ex-players alike, to talk, to reminisce and to have a go at physical activities, to be active at home and have some meaningful engagement with the wider world and the sporting family.

Old tech and new combine to reach people in the way that suits them, positive memories and inclusive activities that those who are physically frail or less active can engage with at any level that works for them. The KITbag provides simple equipment, reminiscence resources including our Sporting Pink newspapers, guidance in booklet form or DVD and a members' book to record those first efforts to be more active again – in whatever form. And the weekly contact with other members and volunteers is all about sharing memories, supporting those activities and feeling connected again.

As we always do, we will learn from these initiatives, improve and adapt because we know that for many older people, especially those living with long-term conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s disease and depression, the pandemic of isolation, loneliness and inactivity isn’t one that will just disappear once the rollercoaster of COVID starts to level off and come to an end. COVID has shone a light on loneliness and isolation and ironically, as with treatments and vaccines, has in instances such as ours prompted innovative legacies that will be of real necessity and for the benefit of swathes of our population for years to come.