AFC Wimbledon has always been a community-focused club, stretching back to the days when it was just called Wimbledon, when it rose from the fourth division to lift the 1988 FA Cup with the Crazy Gang. Alongside that most famous of trophies, it regularly won community awards, recognition for its tireless work in southwest London.
The volunteer ethos is still there to this day, notes Xavier Wiggins, who leads the , made up of more than 500 people. The group had spent January and February raising funds to make up for a shortfall for its new stadium, a return to their spiritual home at Plough Lane in Merton. They managed to raise £5.4 million for the still fan-owned club.
Then the coronavirus hit. With a big body of volunteers, the group, which is affiliated to the AFC Wimbledon Foundation, was able to quickly mobilise to support those in need during lockdown. In the past two months, it has become one of the leading providers of food and, increasingly, electronic devices, in southwest London.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appWiggins doesn’t recall exactly how the group settled on food provision but, by the 21 March – two days before the official lockdown was announced – the first food collection began. “We didn’t know what to expect, how many people would need us,” Wiggins says. “We felt the best model would be to speak to the public for food, rather than suppliers and supermarkets.” Volunteers were dispatched to supermarkets, to ask those queuing – from a safe distance of course – for provisions.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appToday, members of the team are regularly stationed outside 17 supermarkets in the area; over 5,000 food packs have so far been delivered. These involve staples like bread, tinned goods, eggs and pasta. The food is sorted at one of three distribution centres, one being the bar at the current stadium. Those in need can also receive nappies, washing up powder, baby food or pet food; vegan and gluten-free items are popular, too. In short, whatever is needed.
Wiggins liaises with charities like or the as well as the council and police, to establish which families are in need. Around a third either come from self-referrals or concerned friends and family. Up to 95 per cent of food donated ends up in the food packs, with the rest given to local chefs who cook for NHS Workers; 5,000 meals have so far been delivered to several hospitals in southwest London.
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“The Dons Local Action Group have been nothing short of amazing,” says local MP Siobhain McDonagh. “They are not only carrying out a practical good deed, but bring friendship and humour to queuing shoppers. Delivering food to the isolated they give purpose to those who want to help.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appNourishment is vital, but food only makes up around 80 per cent of what’s delivered. The rest is now focused on improving connectivity. While the local community has rallied to provide a constant stream of food, “we will never have enough devices,” says Wiggins. “Councils aren’t supplying them – they can’t, they don’t have a lot of money now.” With schools shut, learning has moved online.
For poorer families, this can bring up issues; say, if there is one laptop between several children. “Yesterday, we delivered 32 devices. That’s 32 families that might be on the seventh floor of a block of flats, with no garden, and they can’t learn at home if they can’t connect.” The Dons Local Action Group has set up a specific campaign, , for donations of electronic devices.
While the group is run by AFC Wimbledon fans, many involved don’t support the club. Wiggins contacted a friend, Craig Wellsted, who is the president of the Old Rutlishians club. The large sports club in Merton has a proactive base of members, and managed to corral several families to help with deliveries. The community stretches beyond the reaches of the League One club.
Football tends to get a bad rap – at times fairly, very often not. Clubs and players do a huge amount for their communities, and the football community felt harshly singled out by Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month. “Players are perceived as greedy and horrible, but few people see the full context,” says Wiggins. “Clubs do loads of good stuff, helping kids playing football. And the power of a fan base to harness a local community – we’re doing what we’re doing with an average crowd of 4,500. Imagine what a big club could do.”
2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appNorth London club Tottenham Hotspur, for example, has opened its stadium as a food distribution centre. Its local rival Arsenal has donated several thousands of pounds to charity and made cars available for mental health workers. At Chelsea, the stadium’s hotel is being used by NHS staff. Up in Liverpool, Everton have helped local food banks, as have neighbours Liverpool.
Wiggins admits that the project does come with attached feelgood factor. “Turning up on people’s doorsteps, seeing the recipients in tears again and again, it can be emotional for volunteers too.”
And it helps strengthen the community spirit that has so often defined AFC Wimbledon. “The football club is at the heart of our community. It goes beyond winning matches – though that is incredibly important, too.”
To donate to the Dons Local Action Group, visit their
To donate laptops, visit