Sporting Memories Chorley FC: Fighting Covid-19 isolation with nostalgia and friendship

Eighty-one-year-old Neville is recovering from cancer and lives with mixed dementia. “Until lockdown, I went swimming and walking every day,” he says. “The weeks suddenly appeared very empty.”

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 7:00 am
Sporting Memories Chorley FC Community Foundation prior to lockdown

Luckily, one of the cornerstones of Neville’s week, the Chorley FC Community Foundation Sporting Memories meeting, has remained, with the group the first of the initiative’s 130-odd branches to go digital. Engaging with isolated members of the community at a time when society in general is increasingly secluded, the group is doing vital work.

“I really appreciate all the efforts to keep us in touch with other members with similar ages, interests, and memories,” says Neville. “The Zoom meetings provide a much needed structure.”

Founded over a decade ago and open to people over the age of 50, Sporting Memories offers people living with dementia, depression, Alzheimer’s, or loneliness a welcoming social setting in which to reminisce about memories of sport using memorabilia, past sporting events, physical activities, quizzes, and guest speakers to create nostalgic discussions.

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Chorley FC Community Foundation walking football

The Chorley group, which welcomed 15 to 20 people to meetings prior to lockdown, was established just over two years ago by Keith McIntosh. Having retired, Keith had returned to watching Chorley FC with former club president Brian Pilkington, who was living with Alzheimer’s and for whom Keith acted as matchday carer.

“I had an appreciation of Brian’s condition and situation, so when I heard of Sporting Memories I just thought ‘this is a bit special’,” says Keith, who is Vice-chair of Chorley FC Community Foundation. “The group’s gone from strength to strength; structure is important for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s and they’re our friends and guests.

“The positive feedback we get from carers and family is so special; it means the world,” adds Keith, 68, who lives in Leyland. “Adapting to lockdown has gone well and there’s a lot of good things which have come out of this which we’ll look to maintain so that we can still offer support and friendship as lockdown is lifted.

“The work is so worthwhile and as volunteers you get close to people; the laughter and banter is great,” continues Keith. “It’s amazing and so encouraging what memories people have, so there’s a lot of pride in the work.”

One of the group's Zoom meetings

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chorley group has welcomed sports stars such as former Lancashire County Cricket Club captain Mike Watkinson and Snooker World Champion Ken Doherty to their online chats. Despite fears that people might not join in, the idea has been popular.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to take to go digital because you’re taking away those in-person meetings, which are a lifeline for people,” says Darren Jenkinson, Chair of Trustees at Chorley FC Community Foundation. “Being the first group to use Zoom meetings is nice because it shows that it’s not about the size of the organisation, it’s about being the willingness to try something new.

“From week one it was almost universally adopted,” explains Darren, 41, who is from Chorley. “People like ex-Blackburn manager Tony Parkes, who lives with dementia, is a regular attendee at the group along with former Preston North End striker Steve Elliott, who comes on with his wife Mags. For people in the group, they’re the heroes they grew up watching play football, so that they can have a weekly chat with them is brilliant.”

The group is masterfully hosted by ex-Houghton Weavers frontman and comedian Norman Prince, who keeps the conversation flowing. “The Covid-19 lockdown prevented us from meeting all our friends [and] we didn’t want to leave anyone feeling isolated,” says Norman. “Routine is vital for those living with dementia and seeing someone remember the old days once more when they couldn’t remember yesterday is the most rewarding experience I, and all our volunteers, could possibly have.

“We laugh a lot and laughter is the best medicine,” adds Norman. “As my mother used to say, ‘memories last longer than dreams’, and long may that continue.”