Vital projects to help struggling Trident League clubs revive their roles at the heart of their communities have been given much-needed cash injections this week.
The Trident Community Foundation, launched in December as part of Pitching In's grassroots sport investment programme, has approved its first set of wide-ranging grants to support new and existing community-focused initiatives across Steps 3 and 4.
Twenty-seven clubs have been offered grants of up to £4,000 from the opening set of allocations, with further grants remaining available from this season's earmarked £150,000 fund donated by Ladbrokes' owner, Entain.
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The Pitching In Southern League is home to 16 of the successful clubs at this stage and vice-chairman Anthony Hughes said: "It has been phenomenal. We were overwhelmed by the response and the difficult part was allocating funds as all the projects were worthy.
"We have tried to reward a variety of applications that are creative and innovative, covering as many different facets of the community as possible.
"It has been such a difficult time over the past year but this gives us the first impetus to start looking ahead to when things open up.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel and getting these projects off the ground will be the start of clubs getting back in amongst their communities."
Forming or expanding opportunities for women, children and disabled footballers provide the basis of several approved bids, while Poole Town and Workington are set to focus on social provision and increasing safe participation in sport for people living in deprived areas.
Not all the proposals are football-based, with Merthyr Town and Merstham among those who hope to use the funds to advance mental health initiatives and Newcastle Town, one of six Pitching In Northern Premier League clubs to be offered a grant, aiming to expand a food bank scheme.
NPL chairman Mark Harris, who sits on the TCF board alongside his Southern and Isthmian League counterparts, two Ladbrokes representatives and Non-League Paper editor-in-chief David Emery, said: "We were very pleased with not just the amount but the quality of the applications we received.
"Through forces beyond our control, one of the tasks facing every club in non-league football is to re-establish themselves in their local community.
"We have to collectively remind our communities of the important role non-league football plays, and what better way to do that than through community-facing activities."
Pitching In Isthmian League chairman Nick Robinson agrees and believes the grants will provide a timely morale-boost in the wake of a second consecutive league season being curtailed.
"This is the time to be giving good news," he said. "It is the honey to go with the bitter pill.
"We want to be able to breathe life into this - it's not just football, it's football with a real community effort.
"The principles behind the various projects are brilliant and it's vital to engage youngsters, in particular, to get the names of the clubs and leagues into their psyche."
Pitching In ambassador Stuart Pearce knows all about the value of the non-league community from his early days at Wealdstone and the former England skipper said: "These clubs will have a vital role to play in the health and wellbeing of society when restrictions ease.
"Initiatives like this will show the true meaning of Pitching In and strengthen existing bonds within communities across the country.
"I would like to congratulate those who have been successful - and this is just the start. I look forward to seeing these initiatives come to life and more ideas come in."
Pitching In spokesperson and Ladbrokes PR Director Simon Clare added: "When we launched our Pitching In sponsorship of the Trident Leagues, our ambition was for Entain and our Ladbrokes brand to make a real difference to grassroots and non-elite sport, and we are thrilled to be a founding partner of the Trident Community Fund.
"Already we are inspired and enthused by the variety and nature of the proposed projects.
"We can't wait to see these projects make a difference to communities across England and Wales in the months ahead, at a time when they are needed most."
Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. The programme includes a flagship partnership with The Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Leagues - collectively known as The Trident League, as well as a partnership with the UK sports charity SportsAid. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/
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