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Giving back: The Foundation's winter lifeline to young people

The Foundation has invested £100,000 in 22,000 warm clothing items as one of several methods to combat the cold this winter

| by Matthew Brown

The festive season is known by many as a time for giving, and that’s especially true for Manchester United Foundation. The club’s associated charity looks to positively impact the lives of 5-25 year olds through its work, primarily delivered in the areas of greatest social deprivation.

Operating most prominently across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, many of the young people with whom the Foundation works sadly face hardship in their daily lives. The voices of the Foundation’s young people are paramount in shaping the charity’s direction and how it looks to offer its support.

Feedback from its youth voice group – made up of young people who attend Foundation projects and represent wider groups of participants’ views – highlighted concerns over being cold during the winter months.

Of course, decreasing temperatures in the winter months only accentuate that difficulty, along with other challenges, like poverty, the cost-of-living crisis or a lack of support. The Foundation, though, has made it a collective mission – alongside staff and supporters – to do its utmost to help young people through these challenges during winter.

There was no greater representation of the community coming together in aid of such a cause, than at the Old Trafford stadium sleep out last month. More than 120 fans – among them former Red, David May – put themselves through a night of rough sleeping, on the terraces in M16, in aid of local young people facing hardship.

“It’s heart-breaking that people are going to be outside tonight in this pouring rain,” said May, after putting down his sleeping bag for the night, overlooking the Stretford End. “Doing this, I can go home tomorrow and go to bed, but a lot of people can’t.”

It was the most sobering of experiences for participants, but to their credit, they have so far raised more than £40,000* to support young people in hardship this winter – which will be split between the Foundation and youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

For Neil, a season ticket holder, it was not his ordinary trip to Old Trafford, but one he valued nonetheless: “It’s a really worthwhile cause and it’s been a great experience. It’s given us an insight into how people’s lives are so different to ours.”

Centrepoint delivers outreach work with vulnerable young people in and around the city, while the Foundation provides community and education programmes through its delivery – and has sought to complement this with the provision of winter clothing in recent months.

In a similar vein, fans came together in extraordinary spirit with the Foundation, when the club held a matchday winter coat appeal ahead of Brentford’s visit to Old Trafford in October.

More than 2,000 coats were donated by fans, club staff and players from Erik ten Hag’s and Marc Skinner’s first-team squads for young people and families in need, and these have since been redistributed to the Foundation’s partner schools. The coats received have also helped to support local poverty charities and identified youth charities in Ukraine.

“Knowing there are fabulous people out there that want to make a difference to our children, it means the world to us,” said Adele Cox, headteacher of Pioneer House School, one of the Foundation’s 77 partner schools in Greater Manchester and beyond.

“We have young people who come to school with just their uniform, so having the opportunity to give some things out to our lovely families, they will be so delighted. Knowing it has come from the Foundation will make it even more special.”

It was a sentiment also noted by Andrew Williams, one of the Foundation’s primary delivery officers: “When we’re outside delivering PE, you can see some of the children, freezing. To give them a jacket or a coat, that’s unreal for some of these children. They might even wear it inside the house, and coming to school, that means they’re ready and eager to learn.”

Coats have been distributed to children and families, and will complement a Foundation gift of more than 22,000 additional winter clothing items – worth more than £100,00 altogether – which are being given to all of its partner schools, no matter their individual circumstances.

Delivery of these items, which include hats, gloves, scarves and blankets, has been taking place in recent weeks, landing with the young people at a crucial time as temperatures begin to drop into single digits.

It has been heart-warming to see the reactions of pupils upon receiving such items – like those pictured at St Alphonsus Primary School; situated in the shadow of Old Trafford, just a mile or so away from our famous home.

Louisa Carter, director of professional learning at another Foundation partner, Kingfisher Primary School, said: “We have lots of families in school who will really benefit from the extra warm clothing provided by Manchester United Foundation, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis.

“The hats, gloves and scarves will help to keep the children really warm over the winter months and the donations are really, really appreciated.”

It’s been a multi-layered approach by the Foundation in looking to remove, where possible, some of the challenges its young people will face during winter, which wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of supporters, players and staff.

This effort was neatly summarised by Foundation chief executive, John Shiels, following the overwhelming response to our winter coat appeal: “There has been a real sense of everyone pulling together for a greater good, which has been truly amazing to see.”

In the true spirit of Manchester United, it’s a collective effort that’s helping to give young people the best possible chance to flourish and succeed.