COLCHESTER United’s relationship with their Football in the Community charity partner is now stronger than ever.

That is the view of the programme’s Head of Community Corin Haines, who believes U’s chairman Robbie Cowling’s support has been a big positive during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cowling has thrown his support behind the considerable efforts of the Colchester United Football in the Community (FITC) workers, during the lockdown period.

And Haines, who is celebrating 20 years of working at the charity, says the alliance they have with the U’s is second to none.

Haines said: “I don’t know of another community scheme in the country that has a stronger relationship than the one between Football in the Community and the football club.

“We have three senior representatives of the football club - Robbie Cowling, Tim Waddington and Jon De Souza - that sit on our board.

“The chairman is fully supportive of the work we undertake on a daily basis.

“The relationship is superb and we’re very fortunate to have a football club that thinks so highly of their community schemes because there are some examples up and down the country where there isn’t that same relationship and they’re almost working as two separate entities.

“We’re very fortunate to have that.

“From a personal perspective, the way in which the chairman has reacted to this situation has brought the community and the fans even closer together with us and the respect for the way in which the football club is being run.

“That’s a massive positive to come out of this - how the football club is being perceived in this period of time.

“That’s also been on a personal level, with the way in which the chairman has decided to work with the staff in terms of the furlough scheme.”

Haines is marking 20 years of working at FITC, having first started out there as a community apprentice coach back on July 1, 2000.

Since completing his apprenticeship in 2002, he has worked in numerous roles helping to raise the profile of the charity prior to taking over as Head of Community, in 2013.

He said: “It feels a long time...but I don’t think it feels quite like 20 years!

“It’s gone remarkably quickly but not without any lack of pleasure or satisfaction along the way.

“I remember the first day I set off on the bus from Tollesbury as a 15 year old and you never know what the future holds.

“I was going in to do a two-year apprenticeship scheme and I suppose I didn’t think any further than that.

“I didn’t know if I’d enjoy coaching and working within a community organisation but it did feel right from day one; it felt like it was something I could thrive on and enjoy.

“It’s a challenging job, certainly the Head of Community role I’ve been in over the last seven years but it isn’t half rewarding.

“I think the most satisfying things to me are the way the organisation since 2013 has re-established itself as a leading charity regionally, the breadth of programmes we now offer and the strong sustainability and financial position that the organisation is in to be able to fight Covid.

“The organisation has good reserves; we’ve been able to build that up over the last seven years and that’s kind of been under my head, if you like.

“Before that, I was working under previous CEOs - I was contributing but ultimately, wasn’t directly and fully responsible for the strategy and operation, both financially and operationally.

“I think the biggest achievement has to be how it’s evolved more recently, the strength that the organisation finds itself in at this stage and that’s been over the last four or five years.

“That coincides with being able to tackle Covid and take a massive financial hit and still hopefully be a sustainable organisation.”

FITC offers four main strands of delivery - Sports Participation, Education, Health and Inclusion and Facility Development .

They currently deliver services to 7,500 people over 450 hours of provision each week.

Haines added: “We want to offer whoever walks through that door some form of provision.

“We’re very close to doing that now and there are maybe only a few target audiences that we’re not catering for.

“Covid will definitely change the direction and the strategy of the organisation.

“It has to and we have to be flexible and evolve but from a personal perspective, I still absolutely thrive every single day on coming into work because we have an impact every single day.”