There is a striking statistic at the heart of the SPFL Trust’s official website, the kind that compels you to blink and look again.

It reads: ‘If you live within 10 miles of an SPFL stadium, you are three times more likely to experience poverty.’ There may well be a creeping sense the game is being slowly taken away from the working class, but clubs remain quite literally rooted in the communities upon which hardship and deprivation is forever foisted.

This is a fact not lost on them one bit, nor in the corner of Hampden from which the league body’s official charity operates.

“It’s staggering,” said CEO Nicky Reid. “It’s statistical postcode data, you can’t argue with it. It’s based on the postcode of the football club and the 10-mile radius thereof. We know from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation data whether households in those areas are more likely to live in poverty. I should stress, it’s not because you live within 10 miles of a stadium, but that you are three times more likely to experience poverty.

“When we were confronted with that stat, we said ‘that’s not OK with us’. All these people on our doorstep are not living the quality of life they deserve. Knowing we have these resources, skills, facilities and stadiums within 10 miles, what are we going to do about it? That’s driving everything we’re doing.”

What they are doing, is striving to prove football can be a vehicle for change in Scotland. Since Reid joined the SPFL Trust in 2010, the number of community trusts operating at Scottish clubs has soared from 12 to 37 – ‘nothing particularly to do with me,’ she stresses. And while clubs engaging with their communities stretches back decades, there has been a paradigm shift towards the idea that football can be about so much more than 3pm on a Saturday.

That is where community trusts come in, and, in turn, where the SPFL Trust helps to facilitate their work. In addition to delivering their own programmes around mental health and the enormously successful Football Fans in Training scheme adopted by clubs across the country, there is a committed focus on helping community trusts deliver vital initiatives, with an increasing emphasis on tackling poverty.

“We try to be a national voice using a national platform to prove football can be an agent for positive social change,” Reid said. “Not only that, but prove we can be trusted to do it. There’s always a slight unease around football and a criticism of it – centres, clubs, supporters, whoever it may be. A large part of what we do is evidence the work that goes on so we can prove this is a sector able to engage with those who are hardest to reach, but also to do it well.”

This month, the SPFL Trust has allocated £100,000 to 10 clubs’ community trusts – from Aberdeen to Arbroath - to fund activities primarily based on assisting people struggling with the cost of living. For example, in providing food and warm spaces through the remainder of winter, but also in helping combat the social isolation that so often goes hand-in-hand with poverty.

“The winter support fund is part of four different pieces of work that we’re calling our ‘winter response’,” Reid explained. “The fund itself is the allocation of £100,000 to deliver pieces of work between January and March across the country that will have some baseline requirements: there’s things we know about what communities need now and that doesn’t change really around the country - we know what’s most beneficial.

The Herald: 'We try to be a national voice using a national platform''We try to be a national voice using a national platform' (Image: Craig Watson)

“So, apart from those basic parameters, it’s an opportunity for community trusts to apply to us for up to £10,000 to run some activity in January through to March that eases the impact of the current cost of living crisis on those who are most vulnerable, and an opportunity to do it in a way that’s most appropriate for their local area. That’s probably a slightly different approach we’ve taken this time, but it’s important that it has must be what each community needs, because each community is so different.

“Not everybody applied but we expected that because, although there’s 37 charities, they’re all at very different stages. Some are new with volunteer boards of trustees, some of them don’t even have staff that are paid anything yet.

“It was a challenge to whittle them down and make sure we had a breadth of delivery, that it covered a good proportion of the country and we felt it was all deliverable based on the applications the trusts submitted. We’re really pleased that we have the 10 we are able to work with.”

Reid acknowledges some may look at this work and ask: ‘why through football?’ And yet the evidence suggests they would be posing a question entirely the wrong way round. There is arguably no strand of Scottish society so culturally ingrained as the beautiful; nothing that matters quite as much to so many people. It puts football in a unique place to reach demographics often elusive to more conventional avenues for tackling social issues.

“We in the third sector refer to anchor organisations within communities,” said Reid. “Oftentimes in the past, it’d be churches, miners, or social clubs. A lot of those have been lost.

“Football clubs are almost the last bastion of these anchor organisations. They come, dare I say it, religiously, every Saturday at 3 o’clock. It’s generational, and there are not many generational things left within our society.

“Players come and go, but fans will stay for 20, 30, 40 years. That unique place that makes Scottish football such an exciting thing for fans, also makes it an exciting alternative when people who would not otherwise want to engage in things get the chance to do it.

“For example, a middle-aged man who really knows he ought to go and do something about their weight because their wife tells them. The GP they know would tell them too, but they avoid going to the GP – it’s a well-known statistic that men don’t go.

“But, if you offer them that safe provision at a football stadium, delivered by their local club, our research shows it doesn’t matter if they’re a fan of that club or not. It’s the environment, the place in the community, the fact it’s not ‘medical-feeling’, and the type of people who will be delivering.

“They also want to get behind the scenes – free tickets, meet the manager and players. Whether they rate the manager or are a fan of the club doesn’t really matter, it’s a world people don’t get to see very often.

“It’s a complex thing but completely true. That, ultimately, is the reason clubs are successful in what they do, because they have something unique to offer by way of being a vehicle for change.”

The hope and expectation within the SPFL Trust is the winter funding will make a substantial difference over the next few months. And while Reid emphasises their work is less about ‘direct delivery’ than the club trusts doing tireless work on the ground, they are still doing whatever they can for people in crisis. Even small, seemingly insignificant things can make a difference; the SPFL Trust’s website now has a section dedicated to the cost-of-living crisis, the reasons for which may only be fully appreciated by those using the services.

“It’s the background to everything we’re doing,” Reid said. “The creation of that part of the website was one of four things we committed to for the winter.

“It came from feedback from a couple of brilliant ladies living in poverty. They’re involved with an organisation in Edinburgh and came to chat with us about their experiences.

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“There’s a lot more in-work poverty; people who have been on that cusp and now find themselves really struggling. What they said was, there’s all these websites – Citizen’s Advice, debt lines – but if you’re sitting in an office, library or borrowing your friend’s laptop, people want to retain their self-esteem.

“Logging on to something that is so obviously that puts a lot of people off. We wanted to create space on our website that, if you looked at a glance, it wouldn’t jump out that you are on a debt advice website or looking for food banks. It was just somewhere all that information could be held, all we’re really doing is using our platform to share it in a different way.

“We e-mailed all the clubs and trusts to give them links to that information, suggesting they might want to send it out to season ticket holders and community programmes. Honestly, if one person gets some help through it, that’s enough. One person is one too many to be in the situation they’re in, but if the information makes someone feel more comfortable about accessing help, isn’t that a great thing?”