Life has become more than a little different to the norm in recent weeks.
And that has certainly been the case at AFC Portchester since the country was put under lockdown conditions by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
The Crest Finance Stadium, the home of the football club at Wicor Recreation Ground, is normally busy with activity throughout the week.
Whether it is a matchday in the stadium, with the first team chasing promotion to the Southern League, or the playing fields surrounding the stadium buzzing with children taking part in youth football matches over the weekends.
Or whether it is the club’s three function rooms packed with people celebrating a birthday, wedding or other special occasion or one of the community groups which regularly use the club’s facilities for activities including a youth drop-in centre, dance classes and pilates and fitness.
Life is never dull or quiet at the Crest Finance Stadium, which continually grows in its role as one of the Portchester community’s main hubs for sporting and social activities.
And life has not become dull or quiet there due to coronavirus or the conditions of the Covid-19 lockdown. The Crest Finance Stadium is still a thriving and important hub for Portchester, albeit in a very different yet vitally important way during these difficult times for the community.
While there may be no sport, no community groups and no functions, the doors of the stadium facilities at Wicor Recreation Ground have not been closed.
The facilities have become the headquarters of a very special group providing vital support across the Portchester community.
Rather than closing everything down and waiting for the coronavirus crisis to pass, the football club’s first thoughts were: if we can’t remain open how can we help our local community?
The Portchester community’s support for their football club has always been strong - whether it is through playing for one of the dozens of youth teams, watching the first team and reserves in action, helping the club financially through sponsorship or attending one of its many regular events - like the club’s annual family fireworks display and bonfire.
After countless years of support from local people, it was now time to support those same local people in their hour of need.
So just as lockdown measures were coming into force, a band of club volunteers decided to form the AFC Portchester Covid-19 Mutual Support Group.
Chairman Paul Kelly takes up the story: “After the government’s announcement of bars and restaurants being shut down and the lockdown kicked in, I mentioned to Amy - my colleague at AFC Portchester - we need to do something to help the community during this pandemic.
“I sent a request out via our social media channels for volunteers to come forward to help deliver food, run errands for the vulnerable and other tasks.
“We got together on Saturday, March 21, with around 15 people attending. It was suggested by Steve Johnson that we sign up to the national Facebook page of Covid-19 mutual support groups, which Steve actioned.
“We then discussed how we would advertise the service and how to delegate to the volunteers as requests came through.
“Heather Elston offered to collate the requests and delegate them to the volunteers. Each volunteer who works with the group is DBS checked and they then become that ‘customer’s’ personal contact going forward for when they need help from the group.
“Heather logs each enquiry and this is available on request if anyone from the local authority wishes to see it.”
The group’s aim was clear and simple - to provide the support and help vulnerable people across the Portchester area needed after the government had told everyone it was now time to stay at home as much as possible.
The group immediately got to work putting together the systems and structures needed so they could reach out to those people who needed help in a way which protected both the volunteers and public from the deadly virus.
Appeals for donations of food, hygiene items and pet food were issued immediately, which would contribute to the group’s food pantry initiative and be re-distributed to those needing extra help in the community.
The plea for help brought an immediate response from the community, with donations flooding in from businesses and members of the public from across Portchester.
Links have also been made with schools, pre-schools and nursery groups in the community to ensure more of those who need help receive it - and these groups have also made donations to the food pantry.
Paul Kelly continued: “The food pantry drop off service is organised and managed by Julie Sexton and her sister Penny, who turn up each week day and sort out each donation, washing down and sorting by sell by date in a clean area.
“Steve Johnson attends the club each day and delivers food parcels we have collected, along with Julie and Penny, to the vulnerable.
“Many other volunteers have continued their daily errands for their designated customers, and we continue to get pleas for help.”
The football club’s kitchen has also remained open to provide a meal delivery service of hot food and sandwiches.
Amy’s Kitchen is popular with dog walkers, building site workers and those wanting a traditional cooked breakfast on weekdays when visitors flock to the stadium’s clubhouse.
One of the restrictions of the lockdown meant the popular cafe service had to be suspended but the club’s staff quickly put together the food delivery scheme to ensure those who needed hot meals could get them delivered to their door.
Paul Kelly explained: “Amy has been running the hot meal service for people who phone direct or those who have been referred to us by other community groups.
“We also have regular collections from Fareham Borough Council who then deliver our meals to the vulnerable people they are responsible for.”
The hard working team of volunteers ensures the support group is able to deliver on their promise of supporting vulnerable people in the community.
And they have gone the extra mile to support those they are helping during these difficult times. Prescriptions for vital medication have been collected from local pharmacies and shopping lists have been purchased for those unable to venture out from their homes so they avoid picking up the virus.
As well as providing a helping hand the group have also provided a listening ear - whether it is to hear the issues and problems individuals are having or just striking up a conversation with someone keen to hear a friendly voice.
If all that wasn’t enough, a Crowdfunding page was also opened for financial donations - the money given to the cause is all used to support the vulnerable people the group are helping.
A local businessman started things off with a £1,000 donation and various donations have continually been made to take the total up to £2,395 currently.
Paul added: “Two weeks ago we set up the Crowdfunding page which within 20 minutes of being launched had raised £1,250. This week we had a donation of £995 from somebody who wished to remain anonymous.
"Without every volunteer, donations from the general public and the generous money raised on our Crowdfunding page, our group’s work wouldn’t be able to continue.
“My biggest thanks go out to everybody involved in our project - we are all doing this for the good of the community and it shows what can be achieved when everyone pulls together.
“Although we feel we have been very successful in our community work, we have come across several hurdles and criticism from outsiders, which although I find very frustrating, it gives me the energy to keep pushing on and helping our community while we are denied any football during this tough time.”
It has been a colossal effort so far but the group’s work will continue for some time yet - as long as people in the community need support the AFC Portchester Covid-19 Mutual Support Group will be there for them.
AFC Portchester has had a strong relationship with its community for a long time and it relies on that community support every season to help the club thrive and continue to develop.
But in the community’s time of great need - at a level which has not been seen for many generations - the football club has moved quickly to ensure Portchester’s vulnerable residents are receiving the help and support they now require in return.
The work of the support group proudly displays the ethos of this football club - AFC Portchester is not just a football club, it plays a vitally important role for the whole of the community.