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Newcastle United combats loneliness with fan phone calls

Newcastle United legend Bob Moncur and an army of club staff are taking time to telephone elderly and vulnerable supporters who face an extended period of self isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite being based at home themselves, club ambassador Moncur and club colleagues are calling around 1,900 season ticket holders aged 70 and above, as well as other vulnerable groups, to chat about football and combat loneliness. The club is continuing to closely monitor government guidance and may extend the scheme to other age groups in future.

Millions of people in the UK currently face spending an extended period isolated at home in line with government and World Health Organisation advice aimed at tackling the spread of Covid-19.

The phone calls are an extension of the club's existing Memory Café, which usually meets monthly at St. James' Park so that those who feel lonely or isolated can meet and reminisce over a cup of tea or coffee.

The Memory Café was launched by Newcastle United in March 2019 and has been visited on several occasions by former players including Fairs Cup-winning skipper Moncur, Malcolm Macdonald, Steve Harper and Shola Ameobi, who have all shared their favourite Magpies moments in person.

While many older people have a support network of family and friends, some do not and it is hoped the phone calls will help to keep morale up while the football season is suspended.

Lee Charnley, Newcastle United's managing director, said: "The coronavirus outbreak has a profound effect on everyone but it is being felt particularly sharply by the most vulnerable people in our community, including the elderly.

"We have seen just how much of a positive impact the Memory Café has had on some of our older supporters over the last year, and the phone calls allow us to continue to reach them and to alleviate isolation and loneliness at a time when it is needed most.

"I am immensely proud of how our staff have responded and we will continue to look at how we can expand the scheme to reach as many of our older supporters as possible."

Former Scotland international Moncur - who famously lifted the Fairs Cup in 1969 - said: "It's very important for people to keep people in touch and this is a great way to check that supporters are keeping safe and happy.

"The Memory Café has enabled us all to reminisce over our stories and I'm pleased it will continue over the phone. Anything we can do to help is important.

"I'm not sure young supporters will remember most of my stories anyway, but older fans usually do and they have their own perspective from the stands. I was on the pitch so there are things I wouldn't have noticed or experienced, but they teach me things from their years of following the club and some have been significant moments in their lives. It keeps us all younger!".

As well as receiving phone calls, Memory Café participants have also received special Memory Bundle packs from the club.

Memory Bundles include conversation starters, a quiz, photographs and memorabilia - all of which is used at the Memory Café - as well as guidance on tackling Covid-19 and a card from the club offering its continued support.

Phone calls are currently being prioritised to season ticket holders aged over 70, as well as some younger Memory Café participants who have given the club previous permission to contact them.

Supporters who receive a phone call from the club are advised that callers will not ask for personal information such as your home address, date of birth or bank details.

"I am immensely proud of how our staff have responded and we will continue to look at how we can expand the scheme to reach as many of our older supporters as possible."

Lee Charnley, managing director

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