Tony Jameson-Allen and Chris Wilkins launched Sporting Memories in a bid to tackle the effects of dementia, depression and loneliness using some of the world’s most powerful sporting stories.
The North Yorkshire company started off by creating groups that allow people to meet and talk about sport, alleviating loneliness.
The reminiscence sessions help people living with dementia and depression by helping bring together older people who share a common love of sport.
“There are so many different levels to being a sports fan,” Tony said, “If you’re a football fan, you might support a particular team.
“You can talk about what your pre-match routine was: did you go to the pub beforehand? Did you meet friends? Did you check the results in the sports paper? We can use these different resources to stimulate and trigger conversation.”
Tony and Chris both have a background in health and social care. Tony is a former caddy on the European Golf Tour who, after getting married and deciding he needed a ‘proper job’, trained as a psychiatric nurse.
He worked for 10 years in older people’s’ mental health services before moving into service improvement and policy. He met Chris while working at the Department for Health.
“Chris is similarly a huge sports enthusiast,” he added, “We sprung up a good friendship. He has an entrepreneurial background and was developing digital tools to enable people to live well with dementia.”
After his job was cut Tony got together with Chris to tackle loneliness through social entrepreneurship. They decided to create something that would combine their love of sport with their passion for helping older people. They founded Sporting Memories in November, 2011.
Tony describes the first year a bit of a struggle. It took half a year for the work to get starter meaning the first year’s turnover was £32,000. Finding it tough to get funding they partnered with researchers to prove the need.
“A lot of planning went into Sporting Memories, and we worked furiously hard with academics to gather the evidence base,” he explains: “It helped us get a grant from Skills to Care which gave us an opportunity to start talking about what we were going to do.”
Securing that first grant quickly led to others. He said: “Councils, public health teams and commissioning groups started approaching us. They wanted us to develop projects to reach older men, who in terms of ill health are a high risk group.”
Suddenly Tony and Chris were attracting grant funding and had a line of potential partners queuing up to work with them. They’d started getting national recognition, including winning an award for Best Community Football Scheme beating several Premier League clubs.
It was clear to them that they had to grow beyond their team of two. This led to them applying to UnLtd, a provider of support to social entrepreneurs, for a Fast Growth Award to help them scale and meet the opportunities coming their way.
“We started off with two of us, now we’ve got a team of 12,” explains Tony, “Growing quickly sets challenges though. We need to ensure the people we recruit share the same values and vision that we have. We need them to believe in our approach and ensure our core focus is improving the physical and mental health of older people.”
As they’ve grown Tony and Chris have found that what they’re creating is bigger than they thought. They’ve met social entrepreneurs that have challenged them to rethink what they can achieve.
“We thought we were creating a project and an idea,” explains Tony, “What we’ve realised is we are creating a social movement.
“We’ve met fantastic social entrepreneurs doing the same, tackling the biggest challenges. They need to be nurtured and supported.
“I’d like to see social entrepreneurs being celebrated for changing attitudes, connecting communities and creating social movements.”
Tony and Chris have ambitious plans for the future. They have just won funding to establish 64 weekly groups across the country and have partnered with the FA and National Football Museum to create Memories of 66. It’s clear that whatever they do next they’re proud of everything they’ve achieved so far.
“We’ve seen lots of joy and lots of happiness,” says Tony, “What’s been most uplifting is seeing older people connecting and making friendships. That is really, really valuable."