The last few months has seen huge changes in the way we live our lives. From the way we shop to the way we exercise. The way we communicate with loved ones to the way we work.

Grassroots football may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but to many people, it plays a massive role in their lives. Whether that’s the enjoyment of coaching and watching people develop. The camaraderie and feeling togetherness that we all feel when being part of a team. Or the escapism from the strains of our every day lives for a few hours on a weekend.

When lockdown was confirmed back in March all of those things were lost to a huge extent for months. So whilst a huge degree of caution has to be maintained in the knowledge that we aren’t out of the woods yet in terms of this pandemic, the relief that the beautiful game is slowly returning to our parks and playing fields is massive to those involved…

Not least to everyone involved at Braunton Ability FC. They are a reasonably new and small football club based in Devon, but the impact that they have on their community and the lives of their players is difficult to put into words. This small but growing football family cater for people with a variety of disabilities who all share one passion- a love of football.

The loss of football to the players of Braunton Ability FC was a big challenge for them. But it has been one they have risen to and they are looking forward to getting back into action soon.

So to kick off our Grassroots Football In Lockdown series, we spoke to one of the club’s dedicated volunteers, Melanie Regan, about those challenges and their plans for the return of grassroots football…

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How has lockdown been for the club?

We have all been ok. No known cases of COVID among our football family. It’s been hard at times for some of our players not seeing their team mates and not being able to do the sport they love.

All experienced huge changes to their regular routine and lifestyles which was difficult for them particularly because of their disabilities. We were concerned about isolation and lack of support for our group of players however most have coped extremely well.

How have you kept everybody engaged with the club?

We decided early on that we needed to step up and help our players and their families stay connected and engaged during lockdown. We were a new team only 6 months old, with 25 players and great support from, club, families and the community.

We set about posting on our closed FB page every day during the 3 1/2 months of lockdown. We set drills, challenges, completed a virtual marathon, the toilet roll challenge, celebrated birthdays, set colouring competitions, you name it we did it.

We also secured funding to deliver 3 different activity packs to all 25 of our players. So we got them cooking, planting seeds, colouring, word searches and doing educational activities including writing to each other. We provided them with a Braunton FC face covering, sanitiser, cones, a football, a bag, a drinks bottle and solo trainer. This was so they could all take part in our online activities and are ready for the return of football.

The packs and marathon medals took 5 hours each trip to deliver and a total of 320 miles driven to reach all our squad at their homes.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Keeping everyone connected, active and fit. Our players have various disabilities, health needs and understanding COVID was difficult for some of them. We hope that in some small way we provided a daily service to our members so that they all had the opportunity to stay connected, stay active and stay fit.

Have there been any financial implications?

We strive to keep our football and footballing activities totally free for our players. We rely upon funding and fundraising to keep us afloat. We were lucky to be able to secure funding for our activity packs and marathon medals which we delivered for free.

We are ok financially at the moment however we have yet to see what funding will be available to us over the coming season.

One of our super players Emily raised over £150 during lockdown for the team. This was fabulous as she did this completely by herself. We awarded her with a fundraising certificate for her efforts. We have great community support and team fundraisers so we are hopeful that we will be able to continue our group and keep it free for users.

How are you preparing for the return?

We are busy completing our updated risk assessment and arranging delivery of PPE supplies for training sessions.

We still have a way to go before we can restart but we are moving in the right direction.

We have huge challenges ahead as some players will struggle to maintain social distancing and adapting to a new way of playing. However, we are resolute that we will achieve and maintain a safe return to football as soon as possible.

Are there any concerns?

Yes, we have concerns. Many players are unable to drive so have to use public transport to attend training. In addition, many have additional health needs or live with people who do. Some players will struggle to maintain social distancing and adapt to new rules. We will however ensure everything is in place prior to our restart as we are determined that our ability players should have the same opportunities as mainstream players to play football in a safe environment.

It seems that despite recent challenges grassroots football is in safe hands with people like Melanie around. The innovative ways in which the club kept it’s players engaged and entertained throughout lockdown was great to see.

A big thanks to Melanie for taking the time to speak with us. Keep your eyes peeled for more insights into grassroots football in lockdown over the coming week! We’ll be chatting to people involved with semi-pro clubs, County FAs, and Youth Football about how they’ve coped over the last months and the challenges that lie ahead.

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