United In Grief, Hope And Football – Suffolk Dads Return To Pitch Thanks To Grant Support

A team of Suffolk fathers who came together in united solidarity after each losing a child, are now back on the football pitch in Ipswich, thanks to a Covid ‘restart’ grant.

The Sands United FC Ipswich team was created in February 2020 bringing together any Dads who had experienced baby loss, and who wanted to build friendship and a support network over a game of football.

Ipswich’s team started at Gainsborough Sports Centre, only a few weeks before the onset of the pandemic, which caused a halt to their weekly sessions. Since restarting after the lockdown the team has grown from a few players to 20+ men.

Complexities around Covid safety and risk prevention made it difficult for the men to fully return, even once sports clubs were allowed. Sharing of footballs, washing of bibs and use of drinks bottles all posed difficulties under new guidance. This was made even harder as numbers improved.

Today, however, the club has been accepted for a  Suffolk Community Restart grant – worth £475 – which has allowed them to purchase 12 further footballs, a new set of bibs, and re-useable water bottles.

Andrew Wilesmith, Founder of the club, says: “The Covid pandemic meant that there were many months when the men were unable to play and missed out on the opportunity of the friendship and support from other men that had been bereaved as well as all the great health benefits provided by playing football.

“We were delighted to be able to approach Community Action Suffolk about the Restart grant, and were quickly approved to get more kit and balls, so that we would have less sharing of items to do, and could maintain Covid safety.”

The men have been back playing at Gainsborough Sports Centre and recently marked Baby Loss Awareness Week with a charity fundraiser which saw Ipswich Town’s well known Terry Butcher manage the team for the evening. They successfully raised £1,450 for Ipswich Baby Bereavement Support Group.

As 2021 draws to a close, the goal of the Club is to encourage more men with similar experiences to come forward.

“I cannot overstate how powerful it is for me to be able to get together on the pitch and share in a game of football the way we do – particularly in the light of losing a child,” stresses Andrew. “The sport itself is great for a healthy and active way of expending energy and emotion, but it also helps the guys share stories when they want to, offer hope and advice to each other – and just to feel a sense of being part of something.

“We’re all really grateful for the grant and we’re back to doing something we love and which is so important to ourselves and our families.”

The funds have been awarded via the Suffolk Community Restart programme, which is being led by Community Action Suffolk and is made possible through partnership working involving Suffolk County Council, East Suffolk Council, West Suffolk Council, Ipswich Borough Council and Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils.

Chris Abraham, Chief Executive of Community Action Suffolk, said: “The pandemic has been devastating for so many community-based organisations, and you can see from the story of Sands, that many of those groups were and are an absolute lifeline in friendship and support.

“We’re delighted that the Restart programme has enabled the fathers to be back on the pitch on a regular basis and providing each other with friendship and empathy.”

For more information about Sands United FC Ipswich, you can email the club on sandsunitedfcipswich@gmail.com

To find out more about the Suffolk Community Restart project details can be found on the Community Action Suffolk website – www.communityactionsuffolk.org.uk on the Community Restart page or email vcsesupport@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk

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