The Papers

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Mary in the News Guardian

One of the worst things about the last few months has been the absence of the beautiful game from our stadiums, TVs, and parks.

I’m overjoyed that we can now see football on the box but it’s not the same without crowds and canned cheering just doesn’t cut it.

But it’s the best we can expect for now given the very real dangers of the virus.

It will take time before we can be free and easy about coming together in confined spaces because we are living alongside the virus until a vaccine is developed.

The big football teams can better afford the changes to allow people to attend matches in real life but smaller football clubs also bring us together, bring joy to many people’s lives, and boost fitness.

Such small clubs and organisations will find it tougher to fund measures to keep their clubhouses and equipment clean, keep social distancing, avoid congestion, and promote good hygiene.

Fortunately, the Football Foundation has announced a Club Preparation Fund. It consists of £2.19 million to help football clubs and organisations with grants of £500.

The Foundation says that the grant could, for instance, pay for hand sanitiser dispensers, signage and floor marking, building repairs and modifications, repairing hand basins and providing hot water, safety screening, and contactless payment systems.

My message is to get stuck in and score a grant. We need to see you open and safe.

Applications close on 19 July and details are at https://footballfoundation.org.uk/grant/club-preparation-fund

Mary in the Journal

Voluntary groups and charities often perform wonders that vastly enhance our lives and bring our communities together in the best of times. We are also seeing much of their good works in the worst of times - the lockdown for this wretched disease and they will be even
more important afterwards.

Such groups and volunteers undertake this work because it is the right thing to do and can be deeply rewarding for them and all those whose lives are helped. But they needn’t do it and deserve public praise from the top for putting themselves out and about.

Over 200 such groups recently received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, equivalent to the MBE for individuals. I’m highly chuffed as its MP that five recipients are based in North Tyneside. Our Voluntary Organisations Development Agency helpfully describes the winning organisations online at voda.org.uk

One of the groups is Forward Assist, with which I have worked for many years as a patron. It’s a charity that has won many awards and supports military veterans as they transition from service to civilian life. Those who have served our country so well deserve support in
civvy street, which is sometimes very difficult for them after fraught times on the frontline.

The Queen’s award is a richly deserved tribute to years of the group’s hard work in one of the country’s main military recruitment regions.

Another well-deserved award goes to 2344 (Longbenton) Squadron. This is one of the biggest Air Cadet squadrons in the North-East and helps young people in flying, gliding, adventure training, sports, and leadership exercises.

It nearly perished but over the last twelve years adult volunteers have turned it into a dynamic detachment that helps provide adventure and aerospace to young people between 12 and 20.

The third award goes to the Friends of Brierdene group. It has turned a once run-down green space into a lovely beauty spot with habitats that benefit the native flora and fauna. It also attracts many thousands of visitors to the North East, not least during the lockdown.

The fourth award is taken by the North East Hearts with Goals charity. It makes the point from the experience of their founders that sudden cardiac arrest kills about 100,000 people a year and, in particular, about 15 young people a week. The group places lifesaving
defibrillators in schools around the North East. Its volunteers also operate a mobile heart-screening unit and counselling.

The fifth and final award is for the Out of Sight charity. It supports visually impaired children and their families and carers with free trips and events, short holiday breaks in their fully accessible caravan, and weekends away. The charity has also delivered facemasks,
hand sanitiser, toiletries, and food vouchers to the families they support during the lockdown.

Representatives from the fabulous five will be invited to tea at Buckingham Palace next year and rightly so.

Sadly, there is always a small minority of unsavoury types who try to cash in on people’s problems and often deserve a less than voluntary spell at other institutions with the royal imprint. The term Her Majesty's pleasure comes to mind.

I am thinking of illegal money lenders or loan sharks who ruthlessly prey on the vulnerable. The Loan Smart charity is trying to prevent people from falling into the less than tender hands of illegal loan sharks. Take a look at their website at www.loansmart.org.uk or you
can call them at 0300 555 2222.

It’s sad that people ever take such cruel advantage, but I don’t want to end on a negative note. Let’s remember that con merchants and spivs are the few while folk who are lending a hand are helping out are the many.

Let’s shun and shame the con artists but loudly revere the volunteers. The fabulous five voluntary groups are a great credit to North Tyneside and the whole region.