Sunderland AFC and its official charity, Foundation of Light, have been recognised for their commitment to supporting members of the armed forces, veterans and their families.
The Club and the Foundation are honoured to have become the 300th Armed Forces Covenant signatories in the North East, joining over 4,200 nationally supportive organisations.
The Armed Forces Covenant provides an opportunity for organisations to demonstrate their support for Armed Forces communities in the region, ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the Armed Forces, and their families, are treated fairly. Those who sign the Covenant aim to support the forces through services, policy and projects.
Sunderland AFC and Foundation of Light are also aiming to be the first English football club and charity to achieve the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award by 2021.
The Covenant was officially signed in two ceremonies, the first on November 01, led by Commodore Phil Waterhouse at the George Washington Hotel. The second took place pitchside prior to Sunderland AFC’s official Remembrance game on November 02, in the company of Colonel Neil Blenkinsop, Commander Logistic Support 1 UK Division.
Speaking about the signing of the Covenant, Sunderland AFC chairman, Stewart Donald, said: “There is a very strong bond between our football club and the military. We know that the North East is a hugely important partner for the Armed Forces, and Sunderland has a proud history of support. The signing of the Covenant cements our ongoing commitment to helping serving personnel, veterans and their families”.
Foundation of Light Chief Executive, Lesley Spuhler OBE, said “We are proud to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, alongside Sunderland AFC. As well as embedding forces-friendly policies, there are so many ways in which we have been proud to make a difference to Armed Forces communities over the years and it is great that we can now make this support official.”
“Supporting those who serve is just one of many important strands of our work across Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham. We’re proud to play our part in making a difference, and with this award we have a renewed sense of purpose to advocate on behalf of defence.”
Colonel Neil Blenkinsop said: ““As a lifelong Sunderland supporter it was a pleasure and privilege to be at the Stadium of Light representing the British Army at the Armed Forces Covenant Signing and Remembrance Commemoration.
“Sunderland AFC has provided excellent support to the Armed Forces for many years. I wish them every success on their journey towards a future Defence Recognition Scheme Award.”
The club and Foundation have jointly committed to a range of initiatives, many of which were previously in place but are now formalised under the Covenant, including seeking to support the employment of veterans, offering flexibility to reservist employees and families of serving personnel.
Both work with a range of organisations, including veterans’ charity Forward Assist, who support military veterans with combat experience and unresolved trauma issues, whilst also providing support and guidance to former servicemen and women that experience difficulties in adjusting to a new life as a civilian.
Together, the Foundation of Light and the Club are supporting forces personnel into employment with opportunities created within the Foundation of Light’s employability programmes and Sunderland AFC.
Both organisations also ensure that military history is integrated into learning programmes for Sunderland AFC and Foundation of Light youth teams and have started to work with the Armed Forces football associations to support the development of football within the services.
The club is also working with Sunderland-based charity Veterans in Crisis, supporting the vital work they do in the city with former service personnel who need help.
Sunderland AFC is a long-standing supporter of ‘Tickets for Troops’, the organisation that provides free
tickets to members of the Armed Forces. The club holds a special Remembrance game each year, welcoming serving military personnel, families and veterans’ groups to the Stadium of Light and raising funds for the Royal British Legion.
The Foundation of Light also works with the NHS to provide a Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service at the Beacon of Light, on Stadium Park.
Veterans John Stephenson (The Insure Life Group) and Mal Robinson (Pathfinder Magazine) have provided ongoing assistance to the club and Foundation in relation to the Armed Forces Covenant and we thank them for their support and guidance.
Former Airman and editor of Pathfinder International magazine, Mal Robinson said: "We were delighted to work in conjunction with Sunderland AFC in the signing of the Armed Forces Covenant. As a military resettlement publication, we regularly see some superb stories on businesses signing the covenant, however Sunderland's really stood out, with the amount of work they do with the military community, both serving personnel and veterans. As a Sunderland fan and veteran myself, it gives me great pride to see my club cementing its relations with the Armed Forces."