As part of our support for The Bolton Lions’ annual toy appeal, reporter SUZANNE GELDARD looks at the continuing charity work of the Bolton Wanderers Community Trust, who are backing the big fundraiser 

BOLTON Wanderers could defend their title as Community Club of the season thanks to the dedicated work of the club’s Community Trust.

But for Phil Mason and his army of around 40 staff and volunteers, although recognition is appreciated, they are not in it for the silverware.

Being able to help those in need is reward enough, especially given the difficulties the Trust has had to battle during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We lost out on an awful lot of funding and fundraising,” Mason said. 

“We’ve lost £250,000 in terms of sponsors and trading but we are hoping to pick that up in various ways.

“We want people and fans of Bolton Wanderers to recognise the charity and the club are doing great work in the community.

“The son of one of our owners Michael James, Jordan James, did a challenge for us a few weeks ago and went up and down Winter Hill on his bike 140 times, which is the equivalent of climbing Everest, and he raised £15,000.

“Other people and organisations have come forward with support. The positivity is what keeps you going.

“Nine times out of 10 people want to do good and want to help.”

The Trust will find out if they are winners again at the Northwest Football Awards on November 9 with the nomination itself a tribute to the work of the whole team, according to Mason, who has been in the job more than five years and seen the club at its lowest point.

“Just to be a finalist it’s a big thank you to the dedication of the fantastic staff and team here, and those who support us and volunteer,” he said.

“Over 18 months ago the club itself was in a very difficult position and we were having to support even our own staff members who hadn’t been paid. We set up a foodbank and so on. So we had just come through all of that then of course Covid hit.

“It’s been a challenging time all round. Unprecedented. But what has been fantastic is the Bolton Wanderers family is very strong, and the Bolton family pull together.

“It’s tragic what’s happening in terms of people’s lives being impacted in so many ways, not only through the loss of loved ones and anxiety around Covid, and jobs and economy and prospects and so on, but what heartens me is the way in which people respond so positively and are willing to support and help and encourage others.”

Lockdown put a halt on a large number of the Trust’s activities but Mason and his team are now working in the ‘new normal’.

Wanderers boss Ian Evatt has been able to drop in on a few fans, at a safe distance of course, as some of the club’s elderly supporters have been helped through the unprecedented issues caused by Covid-19.

“A lot of activities had to stop but some are coming back now, particularly working with people with mental health concerns,” Mason said. “We have a programme around loneliness, focusing on the elderly with garden gate visits or having a chat with folk at their door, we’ve had zoom phone calls.

“We’ve been giving out packs like puzzle books and knitting patterns, little baking kits. Some people have said ‘it’s the first visit I’ve had in a long time, it’s lovely to see somebody’.

“We’ve been doing that on a regular basis.

“The manager went to see twins who are in their 80s who live together and are massive Bolton fans.

“We’ve been helping people out with digital poverty and digital exclusion.

“A lot of people haven’t got a tablet and aren’t able to do shopping online so we’ve been giving out tablets through some of our schemes, pre-loading them and helping them to use them so that they can do online shopping or banking.

“What we also do is ring round every supporter who is over 70 to see how they are going on, see if they wanted a garden visit or any other support.”

The group’s work covers people of all ages though.

Mason added: “With our young people’s work we’ve been out and about in key estates where they’ve been getting bored and fed up and maybe not socially distancing.

“The coaches have been chatting to them, making sure they are following guidelines and health and wellbeing is as positive as it can be.

“Walking football groups are starting up again, all ability groups are beginning to meet again.

“So many people have missed out on things and a lot of people that we work with.”

More than anything, Mason has noticed the wider Bolton community unite through the Covid crisis.

“It’s been a very busy time because we are trying to respond to people’s needs as a result of Covid and we are helping to support other organisations that are working hard in the town,” he said.

“It is great to see everyone pulling together.”