Hastings United buoyed by vital cash injection
Hastings United’s ability to expand their already impressive community outreach programme has been boosted by a vital cash injection.
The club has served as a vital touchstone within the local community through lockdown and beyond, providing everything from coaching sessions for youngsters to free school meals.
And their offering only improved following a grant from the Trident Community Foundation, which allowed the U’s to aid the area’s youngsters in their return to activity earlier this year and has helped the club’s women and girls section go from strength to strength.
“The whole idea behind the grant for us was about community outreach, delivering sessions and growing our women’s section,” said United’s CEO Billy Wood.
“Since March, we’ve provided free footballing sessions every week for girls under 16 and we’ve used a lot of the grant to pay for top quality coaches and facilities to put that on.
“We have five teams underneath our women’s first team all playing football, which is amazing because it means there are nearly 100 girls playing football in the town.
“The grant has also allowed us to continue to deliver the free weekly sessions we put on for both boys and girls from three to six years of age.”
Hastings are one of over 30 clubs across the Pitching In Southern, Isthmian and Northern Premier Leagues to have so far benefited from Trident Community Foundation grants, which have ranged between £1,000 and £5,000.
The initiative is part of the multi-million-pound grassroots sport investment programme Pitching In, set up by Ladbrokes with the support of its owner Entain, to help non-league clubs rebuild after two seasons curtailed by the pandemic.
Wood takes the club’s responsibility to the local area very seriously and the club made an effort to try and engage with all their supporters from all age groups throughout lockdown – with some star names on hand to assist.
“For the kids who were playing for our academy teams from seven upwards, we would hold Zoom fun meetings,” he said.
“We’d do a fitness class or have a guest speaker, like Bournemouth’s Steve Cook - he did a bunch of Zoom calls with the group. We had some guest fitness speakers who did some HIT sessions for the older kids.
“We have a lot of fans who are 50-plus, so our secretary Dane Martin and I offered a shopping service to those who were shielding or self-isolating.
“People don’t realise it but clubs like Hastings United really are the centrepiece of their local community, even when there’s no football.”
The club’s community efforts have paid dividends, with bumper crowds at The Pilot Field in the opening weeks of the Pitching In Isthmian League South East Division.
After 949 supporters turned out to see the 1-1 draw with Herne Bay on the opening day, 1,214 clicked through the turnstiles to see a 2-0 win over Whitehawk on bank holiday Monday.
“The Herne Bay game was the largest opening day crowd at Hastings United since 1969,” Wood said.
“That only happens because of what we do outside of 90 minutes and it’s everything to us.
“I can hand on heart say that it’s the little things we do that make up the heartbeat of our club.
“It’s a cliche to a lot of people, or something that needs to be ticked off, but for us, without doing that, I don’t think we’d have the impact that we have or the crowds that we do.”
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. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/