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16 Nov 2023

Ahead of the Game

Pictured above, the Moving Lives Healthy Minds Celebration Event February 2023.

A report has just been released in connection with the ‘Ahead of the Game UK’ Programme. The programme was funded by Comic Relief from March 2020 to July 2023. It has initiated a range of projects that involve sport and physical activity as a way of supporting mental health. The programme comprised of a cohort of eight ‘Sport for Change’ organisations.

A key objective of the projects was to focus on marginalised groups who are disproportionately at risk of poor mental health. The roll out of the programme was delivered in the context of significant challenges presented by the covid pandemic and cost of living crisis. The report states:

“COVID-19 has had a massive global impact on mental health, and this has made the work of the Ahead of the Game funded partners more urgent, while simultaneously making it more challenging.”

In the West Midlands, Sport Birmingham partnered with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation NHS Trust (BSMHFT) and Newman University to form one of the cohort organisations.

The primary intention of the programme was to create a better understanding of sport for mental health initiatives, and learn from their implementation. The report outlines Sport Birmingham’s involvement within its partnership and the wider programme. It also discusses the impact of the pilot projects, and key aspects of learning gained from their implementation. Moving Lives Healthy Minds (MLHM) was one of these pilot projects. MLHM involved the delivery of a 24 week programme of a variety of sports based recovery projects for people diagnosed with severe and enduring mental illness. The sessions were delivered by a range sports coaches trained and experienced in supporting mental health. Participants were referred to the sessions by BSMHFT. The intention beyond the programme was that participants would transition to community sport activities that are not exclusively for people with mental health needs.

Click here for a video about the MLHM project.

The report concluded:

“Sport can build community instead of dependency and tackle underlying causes of social exclusion and isolation by building safe and diverse networks of support.

 Sport interventions create different and often more familiar, safer cultural contexts which can mitigate the barriers to entry associated with mental health. Sport can therefore become an important entry point for a more specialist support.

 Sport can focus on building positive mental health and habits, instead of tackling negative mental health. In cases where there is a clear and substantial diagnosis, it can still create environments where that stigma is minimised.”

…sport can significantly improve the mental health and wellbeing of communities and provide a complementary approach that may reach different demographics or offer a more accessible entry point for mental health support services.”

Click here to access the full Ahead of the Game report.