Community in Conversation

Over the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold globally, West Ham United has been doing everything it can to support its local communities. 

West Ham United Foundation CEO, Joseph Lyons, has penned the following piece regarding the importance of unity as we continue our efforts… 

Since 23 March 2020, when the first lockdown began, we have all had to adapt and rise to the challenges which have come our way - as individuals, as an organisation, and most importantly, as a collective for the future. 

At the West Ham United Foundation that has meant shifting a lot of our programmes from physical to virtual delivery, repurposing our outreach to include regular donations and volunteering for foodbanks and wider services, adapting to and enforcing COVID-19 protocols, developing new projects which will benefit those who have been impacted the most by the pandemic, and establishing key partnerships like those across our local NHS Foundation Trusts - we’ve been working tirelessly to do everything we can to keep serving our communities at a time when they need us most.

We have learnt an incredible amount in the past 12 months. As a third sector charity that works with those most in need to break down barriers and provide opportunities which inspire better futures, during this period we have been continuing to consult with our networks and staff team to understand the complex issues facing our communities. COVID-19 has not only produced extreme health problems but it has also brought into sharp focus severe inequalities and the deep divide across our communities, including poverty, racism and discrimination.

We understand that as an organisation we have a responsibility to represent our values, spread awareness and show our leadership and commitment to helping our communities. Coinciding with this, we must progress our society to celebrate diversity and be more accepting, tolerant and cohesive. 

Personally, I have become increasingly aware that we cannot be silent; we have to share our values and use our voice and influence to create change, whether it’s opposing subordination and violence against women, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism or something else which helps us to create a more fair, equal and safe society. We all have to play our part. It starts with us and spreads across our local communities but again, while each of us can have a positive impact in our own space, to make as big a difference as possible it needs to be a collective voice. 

We’re aware that the effects of the pandemic will be felt now and into the future and that as our Football Club’s official charity we hold a unique position. As such, 2021 needs to be a year of healing and with an immense focus on collaboration and responsibilities. We have to consider how we can work together to overcome some of these issues and close the inequality gap across our communities - helping to create sustainable and substantial impact now and in the future.

This isn’t about funding, territory or ownership, it’s about working together and collective ownership - making sure we are fulfilling our roles and responsibilities as a key organisation within the third sector with strong links to our football club and wider services - we have to join the dots together. For example, how can we as local community organisations help each other to enhance our delivery, or, how could all Football Club Community Organisations (CCOs) come together to solve some key community issues on a national scale?

We’ve recently developed a mental health scheme, working centrally with the NHS but collectively with our local NHS Foundation Trusts, alongside Arsenal in the Community and Leyton Orient Trust as part of our London United network (all 14 Football CCOs in London), to support the mental health epidemic that we will surely face over the next decade. This scaled approach is something we are continuing to consider and is needed across many themes to really understand the impact possibilities and to also track against the current alarming trends with inequality. 

I’m extremely proud of how we have navigated through this period to date and while it has been a difficult year, it has also been an encouraging one and it is important that we keep celebrating achievements and milestones as an organisation, as well as across our industry. Together with our club we’ve won some significant awards in the last year, such as the Sports Industry Award for best CSR and even better than that is the consistent recognition and praise that has come directly from our communities – across our partners, beneficiaries and staff. I am in no way mentioning these to bring attention to us but more so to share and hopefully then receive best practice, innovation and ideas as to how we face the challenges of the next decade. 

Looking ahead, as a Foundation, it’s important that we recognise work that is happening around us and assess gaps and opportunities with you; considering how we communicate, collaborate and potentially create new areas as a function. 

Over the next few months I will be identifying the key areas in which we feel we can make a real difference and add value with the aim of then bringing together our network, by hosting a ‘Community in Conversation’ event in the summer term. Therefore, I would like to invite you to get in touch if you would like us to be involved in any response, rebuilding or repurposing developments and network conversations that you are participating in. 

It’s been evident that the third sector plays a vital role in improving the lives of those across our community but we also need to continue to feed into a much bigger strategy where we all connect to make real change. We all hold a lot of power through what we do and it’s crucial we keep reflecting and progressing.