Just like the rest of humanity the Canaries Trust has had to evolve to cope with the lockdowns.
Suddenly we were no longer meeting our board colleagues in the pub before the game and although we could continue to meet via Zoom and converse via WhatsApp, it was strange to lose the human contact that we’d all taken for granted.
However, it has allowed us to broaden the board to include people who don’t live locally and although we are returning to face-to-face meetings, we hope to include a video link up which, if successful could see us adding an international board member in the future.
It has also meant that our mental health support service which had been developed a year previously by Kris Gunns, himself a mental health sufferer and the author of one of the most moving blogs I’ve ever read in which he graphically described his close brush with suicide, suddenly became even more important. And although Kris’s own problems saw him eventually have to take a step back, it has been driven forward brilliantly by Nick O’Brien and David Whiteside.
The isolation of lockdown soon started to take its toll and that meant that we had to be very clear about what we could promise or deliver and, working closely with the Club’s excellent Safeguarding Unit, we concluded that we should look to signpost people experiencing difficulties to the correct professional help.
Clearly in some cases a friendly, supportive chat can be all that’s needed, but in others much more is required, and a well-meaning offer of help can soon lead to the helper being completely out of their depth.
What we’ve also tried to do, at David’s suggestion, is to film a series of short interviews (which can be found on our YouTube channel) with a range of people – not all connected with football and some well-known and others less so – in order to help to spread the message that it’s perfectly okay not to be okay and to talk about it to other people because the stigma attached to mental health needs to be removed.
We are also working with the Club to tackle the issue of online bullying and misleading content. The latter was a feature of this year’s Safer Internet Day and included its more insidious partner, gaslighting. The latter is not restricted to its most commonly used variant within relationships but can also be seen in virtual environments.
Situations may occur where someone twists the truth to attack someone else’s grasp on reality or lies with total conviction in order to make others doubt the truth. A gaslighter may also imply support that they don’t have or even project their own failings onto others.
We would encourage any supporters who believe they have suffered from such abusive behaviour to contact us, in confidence, for advice and support. The Club has pledged to challenge these issues within recent guidance, which is available on their website.
Whilst it is not their job to “police” the internet they are very keen to ensure that online risks are not transferred to a physical risk on matchday or other activities. The Club’s Safeguarding Unit are able to provide specialist knowledge and signposting to those supporters in need of help.
The other area that we’ve developed during lockdown has been our Women in Football section, led by Sarah Greaves.
Sarah has been forging relationships with the Club’s Community Sports Foundation and Norwich City Women FC, as well as with other trusts, such as Huddersfield Town and Bristol City, who actively support and promote women’s football, and we will be promoting the women’s game going forward, as well as working to improve the Carrow Road experience for women.
We’d already made some progress in this area, for example persuading the Club to provide free sanitary products at the ground as part of the End Period Poverty campaign and we continue to lobby for more female toilets, but it was obvious that this was an area that needed and justified its own ambassador.
One of Sarah’s first initiatives was to carry out a survey of female City fans, the results of which were made public earlier this week. While most of the respondents who had being going to matches for many years reported that incidents of sexism had declined significantly, one in five said that they had experienced some form of sexism in grounds, usually in the form of comments like “See, this is better than shopping” or “women aren’t proper supporters because they don’t understand the game.”
Given that women now make up a significant part of a matchday crowd it is sad to learn that these outdated views are not just still held, but openly articulated. While there will be those who dismiss them as banter there is a clear distinction to be drawn between good natured leg pulling, which is perfectly healthy, and denigrating someone’s view simply on the grounds of their sex. Ultimately, as with any form of abuse the relevant test is how it’s received by the victim, not how it’s perceived by the perpetrator.
Ultimately, we believe that everyone should feel safe at football matches and so the Club are setting up a helpline for women who experience sexist abuse or behaviour, and details can be found here.
With the huge surge in membership that followed the Super League fiasco and the fan led review of football governance it looks like a busy summer for the Trust as we try to get the fans into the top ten of share ownership at City (they are currently 12th) and continue to work closely with the Football Supporters Association.
Clearly, fans having a say in how clubs are run has become even more vital in the wake of the recent upheaval so if you want to know more about our work, or just to join us, then you can find out more here.