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'Man Utd have always been here for the schoolchildren'

11 Aug 2020

Find out how MU Foundation has worked with ESSA Academy in Bolton to support students and the wider community during the coronavirus pandemic

Like many schools across the UK, the ESSA Academy in Bolton has felt the tragic and disruptive effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The impact of COVID-19 has been really significant for this school and the local area," says principal Martin Knowles.

"I know of at least 25 students upwards that have lost immediate relatives to the virus. We anticipate over 100 students have been directly affected by the loss of loved ones."

Nonetheless, with the help of coaching, mentoring and practical assistance from Manchester United Foundation, the Academy has been able to play an important role in supporting the local community through the crisis.

Food parcel delivery

The Foundation has stepped in to help in a variety of ways, starting with the donation of £10,000 to provide food parcels and vouchers for families with children at the school.

"We went round to the houses dropping these boxes off. It was incredible because the families were so grateful," says MU Foundation school partnership officer James Walsh.

"We had people from the catering team, we had the first-team kit man coming in and helping out, so everyone was working together. It showed that although MU Foundation is part of the club, it's one big family."

The ESSA Academy is one of the partner schools the MU Foundation work with all year round to help the pupils, provide extra-curricular support and build lasting relationships.

And with James being based full-time at the Academy, he was able to assist as the school adapted to new ways of remote learning during the lockdown period.

Community outreach

He set skills and technique challenges via video, utilising learning resources through online conferencing, conducting socially distanced PE lessons for those in school, while also helping the Academy make welfare calls to families and checking in on key students.

In total MU Foundation have made 2,265 phone calls to young people during the pandemic.

"I'm extremely proud to work for the MU Foundation because of the work we have done," Walsh says.

"We are not just saying we are doing it, we've shown over the last couple of months that we are there to support people and help people when they need it."

And that support is certainly appreciated by both staff and students at the school, one of 36 primary school, high school, special educational needs schools and colleges that work with MU Foundation across the year.

"James was an integral part of the team anyway," says Knowles. "He was always here for us when we needed him and, more importantly, he is always here for the children, and that's what it is all about."

More lockdown stories

See: Coronavirus, clubs and community

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