Last week, John Brouder, Chief Executive of NELFT, along with Barbara Armstrong, Sonia Smith and Michael attended an event held at the House of Commons to mark the launch of a new report that highlights how football can help people with severe mental health conditions have a better quality of life and better health. The culmination of two years of research led by Dr Oliver Mason of UCL on the Coping Through Football project (which makes it the most evaluated football and mental health initiative anywhere), the report proves how our national sport can have a huge impact on physical health, confidence and self-esteem and the ability to make friends of individuals whose lives have been affected by poor mental health. It found that there was a doubling of weekly exercise and for two out of three participants (39% of whom have schizophrenia) there was a positive change in lifestyle choices around healthy eating and smoking. 54% of participants went on to volunteering, education and training or employment. The report also records that there was a 12% reduction in the number of overnight hospital stays for those who were involved in the project.
Delivered in four north east London boroughs, this ground breaking project, which demonstrates how the benefits of football can extend well beyond the pitch to transform and in some cases save lives, was the brainchild of London Playing Fields Foundation who started the initiative in 2005 in collaboration with NELFT (North East London Foundation Trust) and Leyton Orient Trust. It was conceived in response to the fact that the biggest cause of death of 20-49 year old men was suicide and that given that community mental health services were stretched to the limit, there was an over reliance on medication as a treatment.
LPFF President Kate Hoey MP who hosted the event said: “Coping Through Football is a perfect illustration of how a combination of innovation, partnership working and well managed playing fields can make a real difference to the lives of people with long term mental health conditions. The results are stunning, if we could bottle the benefits of sport we’d have a magic cure.”
Deputy CEO of the Centre for Mental Health, Andy Bell said: “We are delighted to have worked with UCL to evaluate the economic impact of Coping Through Football. It is clear that the project has had a marked positive impact for those who participated, and this is likely to bring about significant benefits for the NHS as well as the people themselves and their families. We hope that more initiatives like this will come about and that we can build a clear evidence base about the benefits of sport and physical activity for people living with mental health conditions.”
LPFF CEO Alex Welsh said: “As the evidence clearly shows that football can be a fantastic therapy, we call upon other mental health trusts and football clubs to follow suit and ensure that this shining example of best practice becomes the norm rather than the exception.”
Notes to Editors
Coping Through Football www.copingthroughfootball.org
Coping Through Football is a transformational project that demonstrates how two sporting charities, London Playing Fields Foundation and Leyton Orient Trust, can work with the NHS (in the shape of NELFT) to produce a sustainable recovery model approach to engage with and improve the wellbeing of adults and young people experiencing mental health issues.
The project shows how sport can:
- help tackle stigma and discrimination
- can work together with the health sector on shared agendas to reduce inequalities
- be a tool for engagement with hard to reach groups
- assist in the recovery of those with mental ill health
The aim is to use the football experience to get fitter, increase levels of self-esteem and confidence, make new friends and ultimately to help people get their lives back on track. This is not a normal football project with football outcomes but is more of a social inclusion project that uses football as a tool to engage people who have experienced mental health problems. Most of the participants have experienced social exclusion, unemployment, poor physical and mental health and lack a social network or support and Coping Through Football sets out to address these issues.
London Playing Field Foundation was formed in 1890 by a group visionary Victorians who, in recognising the role that sport could play in improving lives, were concerned that the places where it was played were being lost to commercial and residential development. Its aim therefore is to create a happier, healthier, more active London by encouraging more people to play sport and be physically active on affordable, accessible and attractive playing fields. In order to widen, increase and sustain participation it has three main functions - to protect, provide and promote playing fields. The charity believes that playing fields are where sport begins and, for the gifted few, such as Harry Kane, who grew up on its fields, they are where careers begin. Without a pitch, pool, track or court to play on there is no sport and that is why its mission is to provide a place to play sport forever.
LPFF owns eight sites across London and in terms of utilisation they have four key audiences:
- Schools where a passion and love of sport starts
- Clubs where this passion continues
- Historically inactive groups which constitute 50% of the adult London population
- Socially and economically disadvantaged groups who are unable to gain access to mainstream sporting opportunities
LPFF’s grounds provide a home for schools and clubs where they can play and practise as well as providing training opportunities (via FA courses) for voluntary coaches. It reaches the inactive and disadvantaged by providing a range of innovative projects that overcome the traditional barriers to participation.
North East London Foundation Trust www.nelft.nhs.uk
NELFT provides an extensive range of integrated community and mental health services for people living in the London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest and community health services for people living in the south west Essex areas of Basildon, Brentwood and Thurrock. They provide an Emotional Wellbeing Mental Health Service for children and young people across the whole of Essex. They are the provider of all age eating disorder services and child and adolescent mental health services across Kent and Medway.
With an annual budget of £355 million, NELFT provides care and treatment for a population of circa 2.15 million. They employ approximately 6,000 staff who work across 210 bases in London, Essex, Kent and Medway.
Leyton Orient Trust is a pioneering charity using the power of sport to improve life chances. Working together with Leyton Orient Football Club and other partners, it delivers and develops health, wellbeing, educational attainment and life skills programmes within the local communities of Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Redbridge. Since its creation in 1989, Leyton Orient Trust has invested over £30 million in North and East London, touching the lives of over 100,000 people in that time.