I thank my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis for introducing the debate. The Bluebirds, Barrow AFC, are more than a football club—they are the backbone of our community. In June, they were promoted to the English Football League after 48 years away—they had a phenomenal season. Now, they are really in the doldrums when they should be celebrating. They are facing a significant loss this year, and it would be worse if their supporters had not stuck by them and bought season tickets for matches that they cannot now attend.
As my hon. Friends have explained this afternoon, football was one of the first industries to close and it may well be one of the last to restart. Our communities need them to restart. They are more than football clubs; they are significant local employers and they are community hubs. The Barrow AFC Community Trust delivers physical activity, leadership and core skills to local schools. As a result of the lockdown, it is now also at risk. It is no exaggeration to say that the Bluebirds, just like all my colleagues’ clubs, carry the spirit of their towns and communities on their shoulders. When we talk to Levi Gill, the CEO of the Bluebirds, he is explicit that they do not want a bail-out; they want to stand on their own two feet. They want to reopen, and they want to do that safely and in a covid-secure way. They want to see the fans brought back in. The trust and the club have put a huge amount of work into this. They were buoyed by the successful trials elsewhere and they were ready to go as soon as the Government gave them the go-ahead.
The fans are able to watch matches online, but that is a pale shadow of getting back into Holker Street and seeing a match at first hand, of reconnecting with the club and the community. For many people, their health, mental and physical, goes hand in hand with being able to follow their beloved club, especially now, in these really trying times, so I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Minister is able to work closely with clubs such as Barrow AFC to come to a result, at the end of the current lockdown, that keeps people safe but allows clubs and communities to stand on their own two feet with pride once again.