Then One Day: More Than Football

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Veronica meets the people behind Notts County Foundation, the charitable arm of the oldest football club in the world, Notts County FC.

Then One Day: More Than Football

Veronica meets the people behind Notts County Foundation, the charitable arm of the oldest football club in the world, Notts County FC. Over the past two years the foundation has been on a mission to prove that they are more than just football after discovering that many locals did not know what they did. In this episode we discover how the charity is helping people recover from cancer, Alzheimer’s and in one instance, even saving a lives.

The Full Transcript:

Les Bradd, Notts County 

I was born and bred in a little town in Derbyshire called Buxton. I don’t know if you know it, but it’s miles from anywhere. It’s 30 miles from Manchester and 30 miles from Derby.

Veronica Gordon 

That’s Les Bradd. Since Les was a young boy, he’d always dreamt of being a footballer.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

I started out playing as a professional footballer at a place called Rotherham. In fact, it was my second game for Rotherham that I played against Notts County in a league game and scored the winning goal for them. Notts County came chasing me after that wanting me to sign for them, which I did in October 1967.

Veronica Gordon 

Notts County is the oldest professional association football club in the world, having been formed in 1862. By the time Les left the club in 1978, he had scored 125 league goals, making him the club’s all-time record goal scorer.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

I retired at the age of 65. And since that time, I’ve had a role at Notts County as an ambassador. And that includes some commercial work; it includes organising events down at the club involving former players; and also, my involvement with the Notts County Foundation, which is the charitable side of the football club, and the wonderful work that they do in helping so many disadvantaged people in the county with wonderful programmes.

Veronica Gordon 

It’s that charitable side of the club, Notts County Foundation that we’re going to be learning about today. It’s a sight of football clubs far less well known than the multimillion pound deals and the gameplay on the pitch. What do you think life would have been like for you if you hadn’t gone to this programme?

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

Probably I would have been sitting on the sofa most of the day being unable to stand up, having no energy and no desire to. The myeloma is non-curable but with exercise, you can strengthen your bones and also live a relatively normal life.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

When I got within about eight yards of him, he looked up with a big smile and he shouted, “Leslie, how are you?” That’s how he used to call me, Leslie. As we walked away, the manager there said, “I have never seen anything like that before. Thank you so much for coming.”

Josie Stapleton, Notts County Foundation 

I can’t find the words to describe how I feel about that centre. It is my be all and end all. That centre actually, at one point, it saved my life.

Veronica Gordon 

You’re listening to Then One Day with me Veronica Gordon, the podcast that celebrates the people in businesses who are making a real change in their local communities.

Ian Boyd, Notts County Foundation 

So, my name is Ian Boyd. I am the Chief Exec at the Notts County Foundation.

Veronica Gordon 

For everyone who doesn’t know much about Nottingham County Foundation, give me a brief history.

Ian Boyd, Notts County Foundation 

So, we’re in our 31st year of delivery. We are the official charity of the football club. So, as you may know, all of the professional football clubs across the country, of which there’s around about 100, they all have a foundation/a trust/a charity that’s linked to them. And they’re called CCOs, so Charitable Community Organisations.

Ian Boyd, Notts County Foundation 

So, we are the CCO for Notts County Football Club. We grew out of a department of the club and now we’re an independent charity in our own right. And so, the stadium where I’m sitting at the moment is Meadow Lane. And so, we’re in the ward of the Meadows in Nottingham. And so, this is where a lot of our work starts from. And we’ve run a community asset transfer – it’s a previous leisure centre that was run by Nottingham City Council, and it’s called the Portland Centre, and this is one of the spaces that we use, and a base for our staff and our projects here in Nottingham City centre.

So previously, and so for the 30 or 31 years, we were called Notts County Football in the Community. And so, back in December last year, we changed our name to the Foundation. I think it was just time for a bit of a refresh, a rebrand. We took the opportunity to look at our name, to look at the actual logo. It was definitely about trying to convey that we are more than just football. Football is obviously a very big part of our lives. We are linked and we are partnered with the professional football club, Notts County. But we deliver so much more than just football and I’m just looking at the types of programmes that we run. We’ve got about 20 different projects that we run from going into prisons; delivering mental health programmes with refugees; we run a cancer rehabilitation programme; we work with teenagers; we deliver the NCS programme; we’ve got a pupil referral unit for young people who are at risk, and that’s part of the traineeships and the B-techs that we deliver there. We go into most of the schools across the city, and we do weight loss and cardiac programmes, as well as running a leisure centre. So, the game of football was one of the smallest pieces of our delivery. But yes, when we’re talking about using sport and the professional football club as a hook to engage people and to get people’s interest, it was a big part of the work. But actually, playing football and getting people in to become footballers is not what we do and we wanted to try and change the name to allow people to see that we are more than football.

Veronica Gordon 

As Ian mentioned, some of NCF’s most successful and long running programmes are weight loss clubs. For Les, who once kept fit through his work on the pitch, retirement and enjoying treats with his grandchildren caused him to gain a few extra pounds. So, he signed up to take part.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

My weight at the time was just over 18 stone and I blame my grandchildren for that. We have a table in the house that’s covered in crisps and chocolate and nuts. Whenever they came round, I was feeding my face as well. So actually, the lockdown has been fantastic for that because I’ve managed to get rid of all of that. But no, I went on the programme, and I helped to promote it. How it worked was it brought together like-minded people, i.e. football supporters of Nottingham Forest, Notts County, Derby County – there was around 30 of us. And I was able to participate. The exercise was all pretty light at the time and the education was fantastic. And you can imagine the banter that went on in there and camaraderie and rivalry. I went on to lose nearly two and a half stone and I’ve managed to keep that off. I’m below 16 stone and I obviously come to a few chocolate bars now and then.

Veronica Gordon

Generally, people come to the Portland Centre looking for strength, that strength physically, mentally and emotionally. And that couldn’t be truer than in the case of the centre’s long-term advocate and newly appointed cleaner, Josie Stapleton, who like Les arrived hoping to lose a bit of weight.

You’ve not always worked for Notts County Foundation. But you’ve always been a real fan of the charity. What is so great about it?

Josie Stapleton, Notts County Foundation 

Roughly about 8/9 years ago, I had to go on my own personal journey. I was extremely overweight. I needed two knee replacements. But to get the knee replacements, I had to go on a weight-loss journey. At the time, the centre that I absolutely adore was run by the council. So, I walked in, you know, in a mess – my head was not where it should be; my body was, you know, extremely overweight. But I needed these knees because it was going to give me a better quality of life. So, I walked into the centre at the time. Mick Bryan was the manager of the centre, so he allowed me to swim. I don’t do class exercises because I’ve got underlining health conditions, so I always swam. And I saw a psychologist and she encouraged me to get myself back into the social life. So, from her saying like “Swim! Because whenever you swim, every stroke you swim, you swim a worry away”. So, I would find ways of like trying to clock how many lengths and things I’d do. So, I’d looked around the walls in the pool and just look for words and count the words, the letters. And if I swam shallow end 0.5, it meant that I was swimming 30 lengths. So, if I did that twice, that meant I was swimming a mile a day. So, I did that every single day. And my mental health improved; but it was wobbly, very wobbly. And because I needed to be in that environment, I used to, on a Saturday morning, volunteer four hours cleaning, because I needed to be near the water. I needed the sound and the touch, and everything that goes with it. That was my therapy. And one day, I just walked out of my normal, you know, 12 till 1 swimming session and saw a job advertised at the reception in the Portland Centre, rang my psychologist and she said, “Go for it. I think that you’d be able to do it. And it’s what you need”. So, I applied for the job. Three weeks later, I got the job and it’s my be all and end all. When I walk in my workplace, I get my 15ml of medicine per day. So, I get 5mls of mental health support; I get 5mls of physical support; and I also get the social because I love this customer interaction. You know, building a rapport with a customer…you know, the customers come back because of the staff. So, every inch of that building is in my blood. If I won a million pounds, I would just invest it in that building. It absolutely means the world to me.

Veronica Gordon

So, I’ve got to ask you, are you a Notts County supporter? Or a Notts Forest supporter? Or are you both? And can you be both?

Josie Stapleton, Notts County Foundation 

Right. So, my grandson’s the County and my son is the Forest. So, I’m not really a football supporter, pet, but I’ll just support the winning team.

Veronica Gordon 

It’s clear that Josie isn’t much of a football supporter. But she is a massive advocate for the charity. It got me thinking about that re-brand again. When I’m talking to you, I can easily see and hear from what you’re saying how you’re more than football, you know, and I can hear how determined you are to get that message across. How easy is it for you and the board to get that message out to the community that you are more than football?

Ian Boyd, Notts County Foundation 

It’s about making things relevant. It’s about tapping into someone’s life – their background; their experience; their passions; their hobbies – and it’s going to be a journey, and it’s listening to people. We’ve got an SLT here, and we’re a good team and we’ve clearly kind of got ourselves to where we’ve got to. But if we’re five or six people sitting in our one room here, just deciding, “I think that would be a good idea”, we need to go off and test. We need to find out. We come from our own backgrounds; we need to go and test this with all the different cultures, with all the different people who live in the Meadows, and find out if our hunch was actually true, or if actually we’re miles off the mark. And so, as we’re looking at the community engagement, it will be a period of time where yeah, we go into listening mode.

As we’ve started this process, it has been very insightful. There’s been some challenging feedback that we’ve heard. We’ve heard that it is just a football club; only the players use the leisure centre. There are some people who live next door to the leisure centre and don’t know what goes on in that big building. There are people who think that it’s only for private paid members. There are people who just don’t see that that’s a space for them, when actually, that’s the opposite of what is true and what we’re trying to get across. So, it really is about speaking to all the faith-based organisations, the council, the statutory networks that exist, the libraries, the family centres. There’s around about 15 to 20 kind of local housing associations, charities, groups of people who have formed in the Meadows, and it’s about engaging with all of those guys and letting them know that we’re here, we’re open for business, we want to support. We’re not coming in as a kind of knight in shining armour, saying that we’ve got all the answers. We want to come in and complement what’s already going on. Because again, there are lots of other charities and associations who’ve been doing this community engagement for longer than we have. We will have delivered quite a lot of holiday camps and school-based programmes. But when we’re actually getting down to the nitty gritty of what we’re wanting to deliver into the future, we need to become that asset that complements other people’s programmes that are already running.

Veronica Gordon 

And then, with the Foundation doing so much for the community, how do you fund all of that? How do you get your money?

Ian Boyd, Notts County Foundation 

Yes, this is a good question. So, we break down our income development; we’ve broken it down into the four areas. So, we’ve got trading, and a lot of that is through Portland. We deliver holiday camps as well to local people and as a kind of paid-for service there. We’ve got development centres, which are specifically for football. The next side of the stream is through contracts and commissions. And so, we are trying to grow this actually. And through the cancer rehabilitation, we’ve got some NHS contracts, and that’s great locally. The NCS programme is a big part of our delivery and that’s brought in – although it’s payment by results which brings its own challenges for a charity -but that is a programme that brings in again, hundreds of 1000s of pounds for us. Social prescribing, I think that’s going to be, or hopefully could become, the way forward. And I think that that really has the power across the country for charities to be a bit of a game changer in the way that services are delivered. At the moment, it’s all about referrals and that’s great. It needs to be linked to funding, hence your question. And I think, as and when government, the authorities, the statutory services start to see that people’s individual budgets need to be linked to this. So, whether it’s through the NHS or the DWP, when someone comes along to their GP and says I’m overweight and I’m depressed, instead of giving them a pill or a tablet, they actually get given £50 worth of monthly membership over at Portland to go to the gym or come for a swim. And that really could be a game changer for us.

We work with individual fundraisers. So, we’ve got a number of events from the local Nottingham half marathon. We work with a company called African Adventures and we, as well as many other actual CCOs across the country, take groups of people out to Africa and we do some community work out there as well. So, these are all kind of community events that we put on, as well as kind of corporate engagements and working with local businesses. And then the big one is obviously Trusts and Foundations. So, whether it’s Lottery, Children in Need, Comic Relief, we’ve got a lot of money coming in through those different ways. But it has been a challenge, particularly over this last year when we haven’t been able to trade. It’s meant that revenue has been drastically down in certain areas, and we’ve had to rely on different partners. And yeah, the emphasis on different funding streams has gone up or down, depending on who’s allowing us to deliver what throughout this pandemic.

Veronica Gordon 

Something that stood out to me there was Ian’s description of the social prescribing model. Of course, no one wants to get rid of conventional medicine. But for many patients, like Tony, who you’re about to hear from, both are important.

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

Right. Well, I’ve got multiple myeloma, which is a bone cancer. I was fortunate to be in Nottingham, in that I was given a stem cell transplant in Nottingham City Hospital. For those that don’t know, a stem cell transplant does actually completely reboot your immune system. But it’s got the consequences of a massive chemotherapy dose, which pretty well debilitates you from doing anything, like not even being able to stand up from the fridge or something. And I went to the city hospital post-stem cell treatment exercise group, which is designed to get you moving again. And luckily, MacMillan came to give a short presentation at the end and mentioned this care project. It sounded interesting so I immediately went down to Portland gym and met with the people there, and I’ve never looked back.

Veronica Gordon

Wow. So, what was it then that kept you going back?

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

Several things. One is the exercise to be able to do things. Danny Ross was in charge then of the programme and I gave him three goals which I had. One was to be able to lift a pan of water, which I couldn’t do. The second one was to be able to stand up from the refrigerator without rolling onto my backside and dragging myself up on a work surface. And the third one was to ride a bicycle again. I managed to do all three. Having done that, it was then a case of the myeloma is non-curable. But with exercise, you can strengthen your bones and also live a relatively normal life.

Veronica Gordon 

Gosh. Wow. That’s quite something. So, I’m guessing there would have been other people in the group? What was that like to be amongst the people going through kind of similar circumstances?

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

Well, there are several things. One is when you have cancer, people who don’t have cancer find it difficult to talk about it; they find it embarrassing. Whereas with the care group, everyone’s got different types of cancers and they are quite happy to speak about how they feel, the symptoms, everything, because everyone’s in the same boat. And I’d say the care programme, 50% of it is about people. So, 50% exercise; 50% people; and also, the social network, which has been invaluable during this pandemic.

Veronica Gordon 

You went in there with three goals, and you managed to meet all those goals. Tell me a little bit about what that involved? What did you do?

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

The care programme has got a series of exercises; each station of the exercises is tailored for you. So, the organisers there do a very good diagnosis of what you can and can’t do. And you go twice around the circuit and then you can play either table tennis or badminton at the end of it. Eventually, you get yourself moving and exercising very effectively. I’m now in a situation where I can cycle 50 kilometres, which I couldn’t do before having cancer.

Veronica Gordon

Gosh. That is absolutely incredible. And so, I mean, it sounds like, you know, this has been a massive help to you. What do you think life would have been like for you if you hadn’t gone to this programme?

Tony, Notts County Foundation 

Probably, I would have been sitting on the sofa most of the day, being unable to stand up, having no energy and no desire to. Whereas now, even during the pandemic, we’re exercising outside up to 15 of us, twice a week, and doing stuff together. We always have a coffee afterwards as well, which is also great.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

Have I got time to tell you a story?

Veronica Gordon 

Yeah, of course. Yes, please do.

Les Bradd, Notts County 

Just before the pandemic, I was asked to go and see the ground with someone who was at Notts County when I was a player, who was suffering with Alzheimer’s. He was in his 80s. I made contact with the care home where he was living and the manager said, “Yes, you’re welcome to come and see him. But he doesn’t know anybody. He is really suffering”. So, I went up to the care home and she was there to meet me on the door. And she walked me through, and she just said, “He isn’t going to know you. But thank you very much for coming up”. And as we walked along through this room, I spotted him in the far corner sat with a couple of people. And when I got within about eight yards of him, he looked up with a big smile. He shouted, “Leslie, how are you?” That’s how he used to call me, Leslie. And I went and sat down. And he talked about the manager, Jimmy Sirrell, and the players that played with me; and for 10 minutes, he never stopped talking. As we walked away, the manageress said, “I have never seen anything like that before. Thank you so much for coming. I can’t tell you how he has enjoyed your visit today”. And it made me feel so happy that I’ve contributed to a bit of happiness to him. And I want to do more on that side.

Veronica Gordon

That’s beautiful. Is that what spurred you on to want to do the Alzheimer’s project? Or were you thinking about it just before and that really made you?

Les Bradd, Notts County 

That was one instance. And then, during the first lockdown, Notts County Football Club initiated a programme where the current players, the management, and myself as an older ambassador, were going to contact supporters who were having tough times. And they invited supporters to write in. And I dealt with the more senior supporters, shall we say. And I was asked to ring this man and the form that came through to me said that he used to be a supporter, but he no longer goes down now as he’s got Alzheimer’s. When you call him, you’re likely to get through to his wife. And that’s what happened. I rang and his wife answered the phone and she said, “Who is it speaking?” And so, I said, “It’s Les Bradd from Notts County”. She said, “I’ve never heard of you”. I said, “Well, I’ve been asked by your son if I’ll ring and speak to your husband. He might welcome the chat”. “He won’t know you. Oh, he’s got Alzheimer’s; he doesn’t know anybody at all; hasn’t done for the last six months”. And just then, this voice shouted, “Who’s that on that phone, Beryl”. She said, “It’s somebody called Les Bradd”. “Les Bradd! Give me that phone”, he said. And he came on the phone, and he went through talking about the manager, the players, that just went on and on. And then he went tired, “I’m giving the phone back to my wife”. And she came on, she was crying. I said, “I’m so, so sorry”. She says “Don’t you dare be sorry. I’m crying with happiness. I have never seen him so joyful as this in months and months”.

Veronica Gordon 

It’s clear that Notts County Foundation is more than just football. In fact, very little of it is actually about football at all. It’s more about community and using what it has to serve and engage with local people. Coming back to that social prescribing model we were talking about, I can absolutely see that charities and centres like this can offer something that medicine can’t, connection. Les, Josie, Tony and Ian all had stories about how sharing experiences, be it just by remembering the good times or exercising together, makes you feel better than if you just did it alone. Josie says it best.

Josie Stapleton, Notts County Foundation 

I cry when I think about the Portland Centre. I’ve got that much of an attachment to it. I adore it. I am so proud to wear the shirt that I wear. I’m so proud to come to work and work for the people that deliver services that are good for everybody, not just for me. I’ve benefited from it so I know that if I can do this, other people can do this, and they will get the help from the Foundation that they need. I’m sitting here; I’m living proof, pet. That centre actually saved my life. For that, I’m very, very thankful because I may not have been here if it hadn’t been for that centre.

Veronica Gordon 

Thanks to Power to Change who brought you this podcast and to Pixiu for producing. I’d love to hear what you think about the stories we feature on Then One Day, so please leave us a rating and a review. Or you can send us a message on social media. We’re on Twitter, @peoplesbiz. That’s about Peoples-B-I-Z. I’ll be back in two weeks’ time with Krysia Williams from the Bristol Bike Project. Together, we’ll be exploring how to encourage your community to get involved with your organisation. And Krysia will be answering some key questions such as “Where can you advertise your services?” and “How can you best ensure that you’re serving your community’s needs?” But until then, for me, Veronica Gordon, thanks for listening.