Christine Gardner and Gladys Ryding have plenty in common as lifelong Preston North End fans, but it has only been in the past year that the two have been brought together and forged a strong friendship through the work of Preston North End Community and Education Trust [PNECET].
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which first severely impacted the everyday lives of those in the UK almost two-and-a-half years ago, PNECET – the official charity of Preston North End – was one of a number of club community oganisations across the EFL network to deliver the Tackling Loneliness Together programme.
Tackling Loneliness Together sought to support elderly people who had become isolated as a result of the pandemic.
PNECET reached out to elderly season ticket holders and programme members through a variety of initiatives, from dropping essential goods at people’s homes with garden gate visits, to making befriending phone calls to check in on individuals’ needs.
As the social restrictions imposed in society fluctuated, the Trust’s response varied, to eventually look to once again bring those elderly members of the community together in a face-to-face capacity.
Before Christmas 2021, PNECET hosted a Tackling Loneliness Together Christmas lunch at Deepdale for members of its programmes and elderly season ticket holders, with a free meal and social activities to bring older fans together through their shared love of PNE.
It was at that event that Christine’s and Gladys’ friendship was first born.
Christine, 64, received a garden gate visit from the Trust during a Coronavirus enforced lockdown and stayed in touch with the Health and Wellbeing team, benefitting from befriending phone calls and later being signposted to our provision.
Looking back on being invited to the Christmas lunch, Christine said: “It was by chance that we had been invited. I was a bit worried because you get out of the habit of going out, you don’t know what you’re going to wear. But you go because you’ve been invited.
“I love North End so much, so it was great to do that. I sat down and fortunately Gladys came along and it was just like that. From then on, the relationship has grown.”
Gladys, 93, invited to the lunch as an elderly season ticket holder, also noted how she quickly realised she had found a friend in Christine after that initial meeting.
Gladys added: “I invited them to come for coffee after Christmas and everything started! She’d often ring me and ask how I was. It’s been great for me because I’ve been on my own all this time.”
Both Christine and Gladys are season ticket holders at PNE and while they continue to watch from the stands separately, Gladys has a new friend in Christine who can help her to get to Deepdale if needed.
“I can’t always see who scores because I can’t read the numbers on the back!” Gladys continued. “I’ve only one eye – I can’t see out of the other – but I like the noise and company around you.”
Christine added: “It’s always been nice to be counting down to the games together and saying ‘It’s only two weeks to go’ or something like that, it’s ace.
“She says I make her laugh! I try to be there for her, if she needs any lifts to anywhere, I’ve taken leave to take her to a hospital appointment. If there’s anything she ever needed, she only needs to ask, it’s just wonderful.”
Christine and Gladys have continued their friendship under the banner of PNECET by attending Sporting Memories sessions at Deepdale.
Supporting those affected by dementia, depression and loneliness, the programme includes specialist guest speakers, engaging discussions and much more.
“As you get to know everybody, they all have so much knowledge and they can pass it on to each other,” Christine added.
“It’s just such a wonderful thing and it’s all down to what PNECET has done. People don’t realise that football is not just about football, it’s about the community and this is what this community has done. I can’t thank Preston North End enough for what they’ve done.
“It’s friendship. It’s tackling the loneliness as well, we’ve met lots of other people. If you’re passionate about something, to meet people that are interested in the same thing, it can help a lot. It’s helped my mental health a lot.”
Gladys needed some persuasion from Christine to attend Sporting Memories, but since giving it a try, she has benefitted from the company of a group of like-minded people and a sense of belonging similar to her matchday experience at Deepdale, particularly so following the passing of her husband six years prior.
“I lost my husband six years ago, we used to go [to Deepdale] all the time,” Gladys added.
“I’m 93 now. I’ve found somebody and we can just can get on. We’re there to help each other. She kept saying, ‘Will you come [to the Sporting Memories session]?’ At first I said, ‘No,’ then I decided I’d come and see what I thought about it.
“I can’t always hear what they’re talking about because of my hearing, but it’s the atmosphere as well that makes me laugh.
“I like the company and the atmosphere. I’m glad I came.”
Christine - now a regular face among the participants across our provision, also attending Walk And Talk for Lilywhites and women’s walking football – has been thankful for the Trust’s impact on her ever since first meeting through Tackling Loneliness Together.
Christine said: “I know that the Trust are there for me, and if I need it, I have numbers there that I can just ring and you can talk to the staff. The more you see about all the different things you’re doing for all the different people, it just shows that no one needs to suffer in silence, there’s always somebody to help you.
“That’s what I think is wonderful about this Community Trust. You’re all friendly faces and that’s what makes the world go around; people. Long may this friendship continue.”
For more information about the Sporting Memories progamme and other Tackling Loneliness Together projects, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01772 693309.