A LIFELONG Newcastle United supporter from County Durham has opened up about how a football mental health group helped save him during the pandemic after accepting an award on behalf of the service.

Over the last two years, Rob Waugh became one of 11 million over 60s in the UK who faced isolation and was cut off from the extra care and support older people rely on daily.

Before the pandemic, Rob, who is from Urpeth, County Durham, attended walking football sessions at Newcastle United several times a week and was active.

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However, as soon as the pandemic hit, he was cut off from his football group and forced to be isolated from the outside world. 

After exploring local options for assistance, Mr Waugh discovered Football Talks; a project funded by the Newcastle United Foundation.

Launched during the summer of 2020, the service offered Rob the lifeline needed and provided an online support group to bring isolated people closer together.

The Northern Echo: Rob taking part in walking football at Newcastle United Foundation before the pandemic.Rob taking part in walking football at Newcastle United Foundation before the pandemic.

Proving a success during three national lockdowns, Football Talks is an informal weekly Zoom call that allows participants to chat and reminisce.

Now that restrictions have eased once again, Mr Waugh has now highlighted how he looked to the foundation for positivity during a difficult time and the chance to relive the feeling of watching his beloved club play at St James’ Park, as well as catching up with fellow teammates who play walking football.

He said: “When Covid hit, I got a notification from the foundation to say they were doing Football Talks and those sessions make you feel as though you are part of the club, you feel as though you’re part of Newcastle United.

“It creates a community spirit because gradually over the months, you’re starting to know more people at the sessions, and they know you too.”

The Northern Echo: Rob takes part in a stadium tour of St James' Park in Newcastle with other Football Talks participants. Rob takes part in a stadium tour of St James' Park in Newcastle with other Football Talks participants.

Now that he’s become an established member of Football Talks, the County Durham resident got a unique surprise recently when he took to the stage at the Newcastle United Foundation’s United As One Awards ceremony – picking up a highly commended accolade on behalf of the group.

The ceremony, which took place at St James’ Park, was a chance to honour the accomplishments of children, young people, families, adults, and staff following an extraordinary 18 months like no other for the charity.

Following the award acceptable, Mr Waugh says that he would be “lost without Football Talks” – describing the feeling of not having the service as “like losing my legs”.

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He added: “It’s the community spirit you get with walking football and the Zoom calls of Football Talks – they’re like no other. We all have that bond and camaraderie that can’t be found in many other places.

“Doing the online sessions, you can be more open and talk about topics you wouldn’t usually chat about. It’s a bit like a happy pill – you feel amazing after talking to your pals.”

Now that Rob has returned to walking football, he still hopes to carry on taking part in Football Talks to keep the social side of things and to have that bond he cherished from his teammates during the pandemic.

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