We have a great community spirit here in Perthshire with a vast range of local organisations who are there to make sure everybody gets the help they need, or are given opportunities to be included and feel part of something. They’re for the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the healthy and those with health issues – and we should be proud of our local people for their fantastic work.
Sport can play a big part in this and in particular, the popularity of football can play a massive role in community spirit. With St. Johnstone currently doing fantastically well in the league again this year, the club has breathed positivity into Perth for the best part of a decade.
What you may not know though, is that a lot of the work in Perthshire that you think comes from the football club actually comes from an independent charitable trust – Saints in the Community.
Headed by Chief Executive, Atholl Henderson, Saints in the Community was formerly known as the St. Johnstone FC Community Department but in 2016 it became an independent charitable trust with the aim of being a community focused organisation looking to use sport and in particular, football, to enhance the lives of people throughout Perth and Kinross.
You’d be surprised at just the amount of things Saints in the Community do in Perthshire and the number of people they help. People assume that we are the football club when in actual fact we are an independent charitable trust. Danny Griffin, Community Development Officer for the trust, wants the people of Perth and Kinross to recognise the difference between their role and the role of the football club itself when it comes to the initiatives they run throughout the area.
“I think a lot of people in Perth don’t actually know what it is that we do. Just because we carry the St. Johnstone name, people assume that we are the football club when in actual fact we are an independent charitable trust. Football is just one of the things we use to help improve the lives of those in the Perthshire community but it’s not all that we’re about.
“We run fitness sessions like Fit Fans and our circuit training and we also have initiatives aimed at the elderly, those with mental or physical health problems or difficulties, and young kids. We help to educate with initiatives like Show Racism the Red Card and this is all done by Saints in the Community.”
Danny and his colleagues have been running fitness classes for people looking to lose weight and get in better shape for a few years now, something that all started with Fit Fans. The SPFL funded scheme would encourage football clubs in Scotland to get their overweight and obese supporters to undertake a thirteen week training programme, and educate them on things like food portions and alcohol intake.
It was a successful initiative but one that Danny felt didn’t go far enough as the initial scheme was for men only. This led to him looking at an alternative for females who had shown a great interest in Fit Fans.
“When we started Fit Fans we were the first club in Scotland to do so. It was targeted at Saints fans who were overweight and who wanted help to lead healthier lifestyles. However at that point it was for men only and that was something that I didn’t think was right.
“The programmes ran for 13 week blocks and would each last about an hour. The aim is to give people the guidance they need to kick on after the block is over and take everything they have learned into their lives moving forward.
“There was a demand there for females too, so when the Fit Fans block had come to an end we thought there was more we could do. So, we started our circuit training and it’s been a big success. We have mixed classes of men and women, and we’re currently running at full capacity.
“It’s been so successful we actually have a waiting list! The indoor gym at McDiarmid we use is great but there’s limited space so really for everybody to get the most out of the sessions the maximum we can have is 24 people.
“The age range is generally from late 20s to early 60s and we never force people to do anything if they feel like they can’t do it. If someone is struggling with something, we’ll try to adapt the exercise to suit them or find an alternative so that they can still benefit from it. It’s a social thing too and they get a chance to have a blether and meet like-minded people with similar fitness and health goals.”
The popular fitness sessions are not the only thing that Saints in the Community do to help people in Perthshire. The trust has its walking football sessions every Thursday evening which targets the elderly and those who are not physically able to play regular football. In walking football, you are required to keep one foot on the ground at all times which, while playing football, is a lot easier said than done!
They also visit local primary schools as part of the Tesco Bank Physical Literacy Programme, and a big festival is held every year at McDiarmid Park too. As well as this, they educate kids about racism through the Show Racism the Red Card initiative, which is a UK-wide footballing scheme aimed at tackling the problem of racism in society.
One of the Saints in the Community initiatives that Danny is most enthusiastic about though is Football Memories. She said to me that she was dropping off a stranger and after 90 minutes, she’d have her husband back. It’s aimed at those suffering from dementia and uses football to try and trigger the person’s memory. The initiative is multi-award winning and even has the support of former St. Johnstone player and Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. The sessions are completely free and take place at McDiarmid Park, Crieff and Blairgowrie, and Danny plans to take Football Memories to Pitlochry in the near future.
“We split the attendees into teams and each team is given a pack of 50 cards, each with an old Scottish international footballer on it. We then quiz them on their cards to try and trigger those old memories.
“There was one occasion where we actually had a picture of the Scotland fans on the pitch at Wembley in the 1970s, when they broke the crossbar. The picture was getting passed around and one of the men held it for about an hour just smiling at it.
“Eventually I had to ask him why he was so fixated with the image, and that’s when he pointed to a man on the crossbar and said that it was him! It was quite incredible how the picture triggered a happy memory for him.
“Perhaps the best comment I’ve had on Football Memories came from one of the men’s wives. She said to me that she absolutely loved taking him to the sessions because she was dropping off a stranger and after 90 minutes, she’d have her husband back. Sadly, that man is no longer with us but it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes.
“We try to make the whole experience like an old-school match for them too and they get a pie and either a cup of tea or coffee, or a Bovril. We run 10 sessions in a block and we try to do it 3-4 times per year.”
For more information on any of Saints in the Community’s initiatives or to enquire about getting involved or volunteering, call 01738 459095 or visit the website.
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