ACADEMY coach and former Burton Albion player, Shaun Barker, has volunteered his time to help bring people together, to combat loneliness and inactivity during Covid-19.

This week is National Loneliness Week and since lockdown, Barker decided to volunteer some of his time to support Burton Albion Community Trust (BACT) participants during the pandemic.

BACT already provide Extra Time Hubs, which are a national social movement for people in their retirement years, to meet weekly, socialise and do things they enjoy.

Each Extra Time Hub harnesses the power of a football club in the local community to bring older people together to combat loneliness and inactivity. However, as weekly gatherings haven’t been possible since lockdown, BACT have provided a number of alternatives to try and prevent loneliness and inactivity, with Barker expressing his desire to show his support.

After a number of Burton Albion Academy staff expressed their desire to volunteer and support the work BACT were doing for the local authority during lockdown, delivering parcels out in the community wasn’t an option for Barker due to a number of home commitments, however, he still made it clear that he wanted to help. He said: “My wife’s business has been supporting our local village with a convenience store and I’ve been at home home-schooling our three daughters, so despite being really busy, I still wanted to help.

“BACT put me in touch with two men, John and Mark, who I’ve had weekly contact with over the phone. If I can make a difference to somebodies’ life by making a 20-minute phone call, then it’s really nice to know.

“Both men are great and have seemed really appreciative of the calls over the past six or seven weeks. Mark’s a Burton fan and although John isn’t, I’ve still had lots to talk to them both about. It hasn’t seemed like a chore at all.

“We’re planning to meet up once we’re fully out of lockdown and hopefully I can invite them to a game.”

Studies show that 42% of those over the age of 55 are inactive. EFL Trust’s own research revealed many people would like the opportunity to meet peers to feel less isolated, live well and do things they enjoy.

The son of one of the elderly men, John, contacted BACT to thank them and Shaun for their support. He said: “The support BACT have provided to my dad and I, has made the past few difficult weeks bearable.

“My Dad turned 80 at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, but he had already had a difficult few months health-wise after a fall before Christmas. It triggered a sudden decline that saw him hospitalised three times in as many weeks. He picked up an infection in his first stay and now has a catheter, he requires a hip replacement, is diabetic, and has now been diagnosed with a heart condition too. 

“He lives alone and I’d spent the start of this year trying, largely unsuccessfully, to source some help for him as he was finding it difficult to cope. As Covid-19 unfolded, it became obvious we needed help from somewhere, but finding access to it proved difficult.

“We were signposted to BACT, who’ve been brilliant in arranging volunteers to find out what shopping my Dad needs and making sure it gets to him safely. Knowing someone was prepared to help with his food shopping when I might not be able to, was a huge weight off my mind. 

“We were satisfied enough, but BACT went even further when finding out that my dad felt quite isolated. BACT arranged for him to get a phone call every week just for a chat.

“Shaun Barker has been phoning my Dad and he’s really appreciated the call, despite never attending a football match in his life. The support BACT and Shaun have provided has been brilliant, and my dad has already been discussing with me how we can try and support them in return”.

Shaun Barker isn’t the only academy staff member and former Burton Albion player to support BACT’s volunteering since Covid-19. Keith Gilroy and wife Leanne have also been out in the local community delivering food parcels as a sign of their support.

Lisa Beard, Community Operations Manager, said: “We can’t thank the Burton Albion Academy staff enough for their support. They’ve done it completely off their own backs and it once again shows what fantastic staff we have at our club.”