There was a striking change with tradition at Manchester United’s match against Watford on Sunday as 11 elderly “guests of honour” replaced the customary child mascots before the kick-off, stepping out and shaking hands with the first team on the Old Trafford ground.
The estimated 75,000 people attending the match at the so-called “Theatre of Dreams” were also shown messages about loneliness beamed on to the ground’s video walls, with related content in the matchday programme.
It was part of a move between the club and chocolate brand Cadbury, who have collaborated to tackle the growing loneliness crisis among older people in the UK.
The collaboration marks the next stage of Cadbury and parent company Mondelez’s campaign with Age UK, which aims to inspire people to “donate your words” and have a conversation with an older person.
It comes after research revealed that in a typical week, almost 2.6 million people aged 65 and over speak to three or fewer people they know. At the same time, more than 225,000 often go a week without speaking to anyone at all.
The survey found that simple, small gestures can play a part in helping to tackle loneliness after it found that more than 6 million older people claimed a few minutes of conversation would make a huge difference to their week. Older people said they would feel more confident when outside their home if someone smiled or said hello when at a bus stop or in a queue, or if someone asked how their day had gone.
Cadbury is an existing partner to the Premier League but this is its first partnership with one of its clubs. Manchester United will actively support further activities in the campaign, including former captain and England player Bryan Robson taking an elderly person to watch a game, and supporters urged to chat to older fellow fans on the terraces.
The first guests of honour are all locals aged 61 to 87 who are dedicated Manchester United fans and have benefited from their local Age UK charity.
Colin O’Toole, associate marketing director at Cadbury, said: “We’re proud to announce this partnership with Manchester United and to continue supporting Age UK with our ‘donate your words’ campaign. Loneliness is a huge problem amongst the older generation, and we are encouraging MU fans and the nation at large to engage with this cause by donating their words at every opportunity to lonely older people in their communities. We are also excited to be working with Manchester United in the future on further collaborations.”
Sean Jefferson, director of partnerships for Manchester United, said: “We’re pleased to start our global partnership with Cadbury by supporting their ‘donate your words’ campaign. The club is encouraging all fans to give a few moments of their time to speak to older people around them who might welcome a thoughtful conversation. Any small gesture and interaction can play a part in helping to tackle loneliness amongst our older generation.”