"IF YOU were to ask anybody in the street, they would automatically say kids' football."

The response of round ball classes for youngsters would, according to general manager Kelly Armstrong, be the most likely if the question was: 'What do the Pars Foundation do'?

And, while offering boys and girls, from dribblers and mini-kickers, the opportunity to play is a key part of what they deliver, it is just a small part of the role that Dunfermline Athletic's community arm play in the West Fife community.

Mental health and wellbeing, particularly on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, which for many, caused loneliness and isolation, has been brought into sharper focus than ever before.

The Pars Foundation, a registered charity established in 2013 to run the football club's community programme, "strive to make a positive difference in the local community through our innovative and inclusive programme of activities", while encouraging "active lifestyles and opportunities while promoting health and wellbeing".

Last year, they started up an initiative that aimed to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness for people of all ages and backgrounds, and it has proven such a success that is continues to go from strength to strength after passing its 12-month anniversary.

Led by Eddie Martin, Dunfermline Athletic's mental health ambassador, and the foundation's mental health project officer, the 'Walking and Talking Down the Halbeath Road' programme has grown from having two or three participants to bringing upwards of more than 20 people together regularly.

Taking place, free of charge, on a Friday morning, anyone can join the group, of which Pars legend Scott Thomson is a keen supporter, for a walk, a blether and a cuppa together.

Locations for walks vary, from East End itself, to Townhill Loch or, on occasions such as when I joined the group earlier in the year to find out more first-hand, an 'away day', which in this instance took place in North Queensferry.

I joined around half-a-dozen others, including Drew Main, the football club's supporter liaison officer and member of its board through his position as chair of the Pars Supporters Trust, to take a walk with Eddie and guide for the day, David O'Donnell.

David, from Rosyth, provided a fascinating tour of the surrounding area, which included stopping to have a look at the Forth Bridge, which he was well-versed in discussing with a background of working in the rail industry.

It was striking how much of a lift just walking and meeting different people, while having general conversations, the morning gave to those present, whether they had been going regularly since the initiative started, or had come along, like me, for the first time.

"It's been a testing time the last two years, all our staff on furlough, no football to be delivered, no community engagement to be delivered," Kelly explained.

"It gave us the chance to re-evaluate who we are, what we are, how we go about conducting ourselves. What is the foundation? What are we, what do we do?

"If you were to ask anybody in the street, they would automatically say, 'Kids' football'. But we're so much more than that and, that time, it's given us the opportunity to think about who are we, what do we do, who are we helping, what's our strategy, and that's what we've been doing."

Broadening what they can offer all members of the wider West Fife community has been part of that, with the Pars Foundation keen to offer mental health initiatives for all age brackets.

"It didn't take much resource. It didn't need to have a hall, we didn't have to have equipment, we just needed the right person in place to be able to lead this initiative, and Eddie was the right fit for that," Kelly said of the Walk and Talk.

"It started off as a slow-burner, maybe two or three turning up on a Friday, but you've got to think about what it's taken for those two or three people to get there.

"Normally, if it was a football class, you would think, 'There's only two, we better cancel it', but because of the nature of people that you're working with, we needed to ensure this was going to be sustainable.

"We kept going, we've done social media posts, Eddie had his contacts with the NHS, and now we're looking at 26-30 people, from different ages, different backgrounds, meeting up outside East End Park, or local routes, and going for a walk, having a blether, and just sharing stories really. It's been brilliant."

Eddie said: "Two of our aims was to take away loneliness and isolation.

"It's not the same 20 people; it's almost like a drop-in. You come when you feel you want to come. We do have our regulars that come all the time but there is a drop-in sense as well.

"We don't do it every week, but sometimes we do a wee mental exercise. Mental exercises can be everything; what put a smile on your face this week? Again, positivity. Not taking away from the negativity, which is there because people do have impacts on their mental health that can happen negatively.

"We're not dismissing that, but we try to focus on the positive. It's all about good mental health.

"Everybody probably doesn't understand that everybody does have mental health, the same as they have physical health but, then when people think about mental health, they think about it in a negative sense.

"It doesn't have to be like that.

"You can think about it in a positive sense, when you think about good wellbeing, and then also how you can have good, positive mental health as well.

"That's getting exercise, in the fresh air, in the green spaces – everything we're delivering through the Walk and Talk.

"It's been really good. I do believe we're definitely making an impact in the local community."

The beauty of the Walk and Talk is that you don't even have to be a Pars fan to enjoy it; the company of others, happy to enjoy a morning walk and have a natter in such a social and friendly environment, will ensure that those who go along do.

The Pars Foundation's Walk and Talk takes place on Friday mornings, at 10am. Details of where can be found on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, which are also usually shared by Dunfermline Athletic FC.