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Whilst I am writing, I find it hard to believe that we are now in November with only five weeks until Christmas, what an extraordinary and surreal year this has been so far.

As we rapidly approach the end of 2020 we wanted to take the time to remember everything that has happened since March in acknowledgement and gratitude for everyone who has given support to the Foundation, thus enabling us to serve our community to the best of our ability.

I have looked through the past eight months of photographs, emails, messages and stats to try to ensure no-one is overlooked but if I have missed thanking anyone please be reassured that it is not a slight nor is it intentional.

In the weeks prior to the 23rd March we were actively delivering nine programmes (with an additional three due to launch) which had to be adapted and transitioned from in-house to digital form online. This was a challenging period but it also provided us with the opportunity to be innovative and creative and come up with interesting, practical solutions.

Our team quickly set up webinars and seminars for all our educational and group support sessions as well as pre-recorded and live workouts for our adult participants. To ensure the provision of essential mental wellbeing support we created extra WhatsApp groups, set up Zoom calls, sent out emails and carried out one-to-one ‘check in’ telephone calls with everyone in our database. On average over 1000 contacts were made per week. These various lines of communication were key in identifying which individuals or families would benefit from added support whether that be food & essential items, financial advice, mental health assistance, simple befriender calls or help with childcare & home schooling.

This would have been the time that we were preparing for our Kids Easter Camp and we had been contacted by so many families within Renfrewshire asking for help to keep kids entertained and engaged at home as many were living in accommodation with no outdoor play areas or gardens. Children were struggling being at home in the good weather and missing their friends and school.

Our coaches designed a three-month activity schedule, for children between the ages of 3-12 years, delivered via our social media platforms which involved arts & crafts, challenges, quizzes, football drills & exercises, reading & poetry, home baking, gardening and much more.

The feedback we received from families on those activities was very positive and, as it became apparent that we were all going to be in Lockdown during the summer holidays, inspired our first ever online Summer Camp in partnership with Linstone Housing. The camp ran throughout the month of July and was completely free for the 100 children & families who took part.

We asked our community partners to refer children who would most benefit from being given a place and then our amazing head coaches designed a downloadable e-book and recorded over 60 videos with links which were then sent to parents for the children to use each day. The quality of these resources were outstanding, and I can’t praise the team enough for their commitment to making it a success.

Our next task was to ensure that every one of the 100 children referred to us were given the equipment they would need to take part and so we created our ‘Buddie Boxes’. Each box contained a football, markers, cones, t-shirt, water bottle, balloons, Babakoochi Bear book, arts & crafts and kit bag. These were hand delivered to each child before camp kicked off. This project had a very positive impact on these children and families. We cannot thank Linstone Housing enough for their support and for funding this project and we look to repeat it on a larger scale next summer.

From day one of lockdown in March we formed a strong partnership with Star Project, who we already share a project with on our Men’s Shed, and agreed we would deliver essential community outreach & provision of food, hygiene items, medicines etc. St Mirren FC Charitable Foundation pledged to secure food partners covering the bulk of the items needed, to raise awareness and create a call to action from our supporters in the community to donate essential items and to volunteer their time to deliver food parcels via the community fridges.

We were very fortunate in securing food partners and pay particular thanks to the following individuals and local companies for their overwhelming kindness & support: Mannorview Leisure, Tesco Paisley, Starbucks GA, Gillian Robinson of Company Shop Renfrew, A&A Bakeries, George Naismith of Abercorn Dairies, Joe Ram Key Store in Shortroods, Gary McCaw of Bianco E Nero along with Mr Michael Campbell & his associates throughout Renfrewshire, Langcraigs FC and Partick Thistle FC.

We would liaise with Star on a Monday morning to clarify which items were most needed for the week ahead. These items were identified from the crisis calls that were coming into Star on daily basis. We would then post the lists on our social media platforms and contact our food partners. The next step would be to collect all of the items from those food partners and from households within the community wishing to donate and then transport all of these to Star Project where their team would organise and sort shopping lists to then be transported and delivered to homes, families and individuals in need.

On average 35+ calls per day were made to Star’s community fridge project, this equated to 200+ households per week being supported with the total number of food parcels being delivered in excess of 6,000.

I cannot commend Heather Kay and all the amazing team at Star Project enough. The work they have carried out during this very challenging time has definitely saved lives. Our partnership has now turned into a deep and mutually respectful friendship and they are all honorary Saints. We would respectfully pay tribute to the lovely Iain Downie, one of our Shedder’s and Star’s lead volunteer who was at the project every single day since March and who sadly passed away several weeks ago, he was a wonderful man who will be greatly missed.

My fondest memories during the first 12 weeks of lockdown were our “Saints of The Day”. Every single one of those people who contacted me on a daily basis and asked us to pick up donations of food and essential items from their homes, during a time that was clearly so difficult for them and when they were very isolated and alone, I will honestly never forget it.

The kindness, consideration and empathy these amazing people showed during this period will stay with us forever and I have pictures of you all and I know all your names but there are simply too many to list. Thank you to every one of you and particular thanks must go to Janette Swanson who week-in, week-out would rally her entire street to donate, and still does, and to Mike & Annette Whalen who again donated every week without fail even when Mike was so gravely ill with coronavirus. We can never thank you enough.

We cannot thank our Saints of The Day without thanking the team at St Mirren FC. To Tony for all of the messages of hope he created for the Foundation to those fans who were struggling mentally and to all of the players who did the same, and who donated percentages of their wages to show support. Thank you, you are amazing.

We will be forever grateful to Jim Goodwin and James Hunter. I don’t think many Premiership football managers tirelessly donated their time during this pandemic like Jim. Every Thursday of lockdown, without exception, he would volunteer to help us pick up essential goods, take them to Star and then deliver the food parcels to households across Renfrewshire and James, our Head of Media, would often be with him. In the afternoons we would ‘Make A Saints Day’ by visiting the homes of families, socially distanced of course, who had reached out to us for help with loved ones who were ill and very low mentally. Witnessing how much these visits from Jim meant to these incredible people was very moving and humbling, memories they and we will treasure for life.

The loss of income we experienced during this period from non-delivery of in-house programmes was considerable and, as the Foundation is still a fledging charity, had a negative impact on our financial position.

It was at this time that fans of St Mirren FC and our service users stepped up to the plate to create, organise and inspire hilarious fundraising ideas to boost our morale and to show their support: Ian Brown & his lovely friend Paul who started off the antics with their charity chest waxing and also auctioned off precious shirts, Jamie Langfield for his shirt auction, the brilliant ‘Stripes on Friday’ where we saw all the fans don their strips and donate to our JustGiving page (loved this), Drums N’ Roses for their live charity set in the stadium, Gary Kerr for kicking off our ‘Straight Outta Paisley’ T-Shirt sales with his kind donation, SMiSA for their kind donation to our page & continued support, the Disabled Fans Council who generously donated and allowed us to grant the wish list of Elderslie Care Home, Ian Henderson of Henderson Properties for his generous donation and Paul McGrath of Consilium for his constant support, all of these random acts of kindness made a huge difference to the team & myself and definitely helped get us through a challenging time.

In addition to the amazing fundraising from fans we were very fortunate to have the support of some exceptional funding partners & organisations, mostly down to the dedication & influence of our Chairman Ian Reid OBE. The financial backing and investment we received from these partners helped enable us to continue to support the community throughout the pandemic, to safeguard the jobs of employees and to protect the future of the Foundation.

We give thanks and acknowledgement to: The Robertson Trust, Foundation Scotland, Scot Gov Well-Being Fund & Corra Foundation, Persimmon Homes, Linstone Housing & the SPFL Trust, Scottish FA, Cruden Building & Homes, Network Rail & National Lottery Community Fund & The KiltWalk.

Renfrewshire is now in Tier 4 and we are preparing for the increased need for food provision once again, the essential items list will go out from Monday 23rd and, although we understand this has been a very difficult time for everyone, we welcome any and all support.

We are also organising our annual Festive Friends event for elderly and vulnerable people within Renfrewshire who face being alone on Christmas Day. It will be different this year as we cannot risk our guest’s health by bringing them to the stadium. Instead, we will go to them.

Kate Cooper and her catering team from the Salvation Army will prepare hot festive dinners here in the kitchens at the stadium. The SPFL Trust will donate Gift Boxes and funding for us to create Festive Hampers for each guest and we will secure additional funding to support the increased referrals we are receiving.

We will ensure that each guest also receives a special personalised gift from Father Christmas. The meals, hampers and gifts will then be delivered to each guest, who have been referred by our community partners, by ourselves and volunteers from Scottish Fire Service, later on in the evening our team will call each guest to make sure they are safe and to check in for a chat.

Referrals for our Festive Friends Santa Dash are now open and we welcome all of our community partners to send over their lists, we would also welcome help and ideas on which items should be included in the hampers and help with the sourcing and provision of these. Please email us at foundation@stmirren.com for more information.

All that is left to say now is please stay safe, look after yourselves and each other over the next 3 weeks, to remind you all that we are here to help support this community in any way we can, just email the address above to contact, and to wish you all a very healthy & Happy Christmas when it comes.

Thank you

Gayle Brannigan

Chief Executive St Mirren FC Charitable Foundation

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