Big Hearts rise to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to support the community

The charity organisation face a tough period but are there for Hearts fans and the local community
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“I think everybody is being challenged now.”

Craig Wilson, general manager of Big Hearts, succinctly sums up the current climate across the world right now with the coronavirus pandemic changing how people go about their everyday lives.

There is, for the short-term anyway, a new normal. Completely different to the previous one.

Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal supports Big Hearts' kinship care project. Picture: Big HeartsHearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal supports Big Hearts' kinship care project. Picture: Big Hearts
Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal supports Big Hearts' kinship care project. Picture: Big Hearts
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Wilson sees the effects it is having on people on a local level every day in his role heading Heart of Midlothian’s official charity.

It is an organisation which has sought, for the last two or three years, to reduce social isolation and support those who are most vulnerable in the community. Now it is being confronted with a similar challenge, on a much bigger scale but with the caveat that Big Hearts are not able to engage face to face with the people who need it the most.

“The traditional ways of supporting those people are not possible, Wilson told the Evening News. “It changes everything for us. It changes how we deliver, albeit the overarching aim and being there for people and delivering our programmes in a different way are still very much the plan for us.

“It’s not about saying ‘oh we can’t help you anymore’. It’s about changing that into a way that is going to work for people.

Big Hearts host a regular memories group. Picture: Big HeartsBig Hearts host a regular memories group. Picture: Big Hearts
Big Hearts host a regular memories group. Picture: Big Hearts
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“The focus is on how we can be a vehicle to support this community. How can we use our standing as a charity associated with a football club that has a bit of reach and means something to people, how can we make a difference and work with others.

“Other charities, other organisations, obviously the local authorities, schools, we are all, more than ever, in this together in terms how we support those who really need help.”

Dedicated helplines

Based at Tynecastle Park with a staff of nine, Big Hearts support more than 150 adults and children on a weekly basis through a variety of programmes, including its Football Memories group, Kinship Care and the Changing Room project which promotes men’s positive mental health through football.

The organisation have created Changing Room to allow men to chat open up about their mental health. Picture: Big HeartsThe organisation have created Changing Room to allow men to chat open up about their mental health. Picture: Big Hearts
The organisation have created Changing Room to allow men to chat open up about their mental health. Picture: Big Hearts

Due to the social distancing guidelines, as of Monday (30 March) the organisation are launching four new dedicated helplines as it focuses on phone and online support.

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Wilson said: “As a charity I think we have an obligation to be there for people at the time of need and it’s important we keep adapting and supporting in a way which is right for the individuals. Whether they be families, kinship carers, older people, mental health and wellbeing.

“We’ve had to many offers of support from volunteers and community members that the one thing for me is to make sure, as best we can, our staff, volunteers and the people we are there to support are healthy, fit and safe. That needs to be priority No.1.

“We went through and worked out, who’s most at risk, who’s most in need, who’s going to find it difficult to go out and get the basics, who’s going to find it difficult to have conversations with people on a daily basis, who’s going to struggle in terms of a wee bit of guidance and support.

“We just need to adapt it to suit those groups and sometimes need to adapt it to suit individuals. Us having a phone call, that in the simplest terms may be the most important thing we can do. Just be on the other end of the phone to people, particularly those who are older and potentially digitally excluded.

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“For some of those who engage with us, coming to Tynecastle that once a week might be their only social excursion, certainly older people.

“We do a lot of work with kinship carers, something we’ve championed for a long time. That tends to be grandparents stepping in to look after kids because mum and dad aren’t around. That very fact is very difficult right now if a grandparent is over 70 or happens to have health conditions.

“The big thing for us was working out who is the most vulnerable and how can we intervene to help. In many ways, the normal stuff we deliver carries on but it carries on in a different way.

“We’ve always had a family support worker who engages with kinship care families and gives advice and helps with benefits, would help with foodbank referrals, clothing for kids.

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“That family support worker just happens to be based in her house but is very much delivering that exact service for those families.

“There’s an element of doing more grass-roots stuff. This older person that comes to our memories group needs food delivered, can we help make that happen right now. We certainly have done that in the last week or so because that’s the right thing.”

‘Incredible situation’

The message from Big Hearts is clear: ‘We are here for you’.

The organisation are making sure they have avenues in place for people to talk, like the online drop-in session for the Changing Room project, which may start as a chat about Hearts and their relegation prospects but develops into a talk about their current setting and their own situation.

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Wilson’s strategy is clear, help anyone in need, anyway they can without thinking too far into the future.

As a charity organisation fundraising is huge but it is something which has “ground to a halt”, yet they have found plenty of support from volunteers and the community eager to lend a hand where and when they can.

“We normally have fans running Edinburgh marathon festivals, doing kilt walks and having fundraising events,” Wilson said. “At the moment that is clearly not going to happen.

“There is a whole different question looking at the longer term sustainability of the organisation but everyone is in that same boat and due to the great level of support we have had from fans, volunteers, partners, current players, former players, staff at the club we are in a really strong position in terms of being able to deal with what is an incredible situation.

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“But the most important thing right now is for us not about what happens to Big Hearts long term but how can we utilise our strength and resources to help people living in Edinburgh and our local community.”


Kinship Care Helpline: 0131 603 4927

Open 10am-4pm, Mon-Thu.

Advice on parenting strategies, peer support & service referrals for kinship care families living across Edinburgh.

The Changing Room at Hearts: 0131 603 4929

Open 10:30am-3pm, Mon-Thu.

Mental health support, wellbeing info and regular peer support in partnership with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)

Big Hearts Office: 0131 603 4926

Open 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.

General enquiries, partnerships & volunteering.

Community Helpline: 0131 603 4928

Open 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.

Social connection & sign-posting for Big Hearts beneficiaries and volunteers.

Find out more about Big Hearts Community Trust online.

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