A football programme for people with Down’s syndrome across south east London and Kent, the Charlton Upbeats have been bringing the community together this year.
A family of West Ham United football fans never expected to grow fond for a team south of the river.
Perry Goldstone, 29, is one of the first groups of people with Down’s syndrome in the country to achieve FA Level One in Football Coaching.
His mother, Tori said: “Perry is absolutely passionate about football.
“We talk about it morning, noon and night.”
Twelve years ago, Perry was invited by the Down’s Syndrome Association to join a new and exciting sports programme.
On the first Saturday morning, Perry and his family drove from Hornchurch to a training ground in south east London, eagerly anticipating what would await them on arrival.
It would be home to the infamous Charlton Upbeats, nine times consecutive winners of the Down’s syndrome national title, and Perry would be part of every triumph.
When he plays football, Perry wears a number six shirt, in favour of his idol Bobby Moore.
Tori, who is also a special needs teacher, wanted her son to be part of a footballing community where he could play others with the same level of ability as him.
She said: “It is a community, it is an extended family, all the boys have a sense of belonging that they haven’t got elsewhere.
“I think I can speak for a majority of the parents about the importance of this programme.”
Tori said lockdown has affected the Upbeats’ mental health and social skills.
She explained: “The anxiety has been a real struggle for a lot of them, their speech has really deteriorated which as a parent is absolutely heartbreaking.
“They have lost skills which have taken them many years to develop.”
Restrictions on grassroots sports were eased across the country from 2 December, but the Upbeats programme will return once it is safe, as people with Down’s syndrome are a high risk group.
Head of Early Help and Prevention at Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Carl Krauhaus said: “The second lockdown bit a lot harder than the first one did.
“Someone who has a disability in the house that needs engagement and exercise can have a rippling effect on everyone.”
Krauhaus and the trust visited every Upbeat member and their families during the summer for a cup of tea in their gardens.
The visit was special for Perry, who has shielded since March because of type one diabetes and heart problems.
In April this year, Perry completed the Upbeats’ annual fundraising walk, which raised £26,206 on JustGiving.
Charlton Athletic football manager Lee Bowyer completed his virtual walk in Tunbridge Wells with another Upbeats member, William Kay and his family.
Money raised contributes to football tournaments such as the National Down’s Syndrome Festival in Birmingham and the George Best Community Cup in Belfast.
The donations also paid for 14 Upbeat members to attend CentreParcs last October.
These trips are currently off-limits, so The Upbeats have participated in online events such as cooking and games with other DSActive teams.
The Charlton Upbeats formed in 2008 under Charlton Athletic Community Trust and DSActive, a programme run at Down’s Syndrome Association that promotes a healthy lifestyle.
There are now 45 DSActive teams across the country.
The trust, whose main partner is Charlton Athletic Football Club, was advised by DSActive on how to deliver training sessions to suit the needs of people with Down’s syndrome.
The football club’s trust also runs initiatives across south east London and Kent to reduce crime levels, provide mental wellbeing support and activities for people living in estates.
The Upbeats currently has members aged from four to 48.
A spokesperson for Down’s Syndrome Association said: “Players have seen great enhancements in their physical and emotional health and the sessions regularly highlight a change in confidence and self-esteem.”
According to Down’s Syndrome Association, less than 20% of people with Down’s syndrome hit the Government’s physical activity recommendations.
The charity stated people with Down’s syndrome are more vulnerable to type two diabetes and obesity.
A Fan Base Like No Other
Krauhaus believes the Upbeats programme has had a significant impact among Charlton fans and the club over the years.
New owner of Charlton Athletic Football Club Thomas Sandgaard agreed.
He said: “The fan base is probably Charlton’s strongest asset and an important one in English football.
“I am working closely with the trust and expect to be supporting them even more going forward.”
Perry is looking forward to returning to the pitch with his friends when it is safe to do so.
Featured image credit: Charlton Athletic Community Trust