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08 May 2024

Meet Jo Long - talking all things Mental Health and Activity Finder!

We spoke to Jo Long who is Head of Pastoral Care and a Mental Health Champion at Birmingham Roller Derby.

Where is Birmingham Roller Derby based, and how can people interested get involved?

We are a Birmingham based team, training at a number of venues around the West Midlands. However, we have members who travel from outside of Birmingham (Leicester, Nottingham and beyond!) to come and train and take part in this exciting sport. To get involved, you don’t need to have any skating experience – we have coaches who will get you rolling! In fact, you don’t even need to have experience in any sport or be very active to take part, you can take the sessions at your own pace – you probably will find your skating legs quicker than you expect! If you find the sport isn’t for you, or you don’t like the contact element, we also teach people how to officiate roller derby – and this can be on skates or off skates.

Are there any taster sessions for beginners?

Yes! We welcome new starters at all our sessions and you will have a dedicated coach. We often hold a number of ‘Get your Skates on’ events throughout the year as well, keep an eye on our Facebook page for these! We provide skates and safety equipment and your first month with us is free! 

We are a really inclusive and gender diverse sport – you must be over 18 in order to join, and we welcome individuals of all gender identities to join as a member. However, if you want to take part and compete in roller derby, individuals must align with the Women’s Flat Track Roller derby gender policy: ‘Any individual who identifies as a trans woman, intersex woman, and/or gender expansive may skate with Birmingham Roller Derby if women’s flat track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby with which they most closely identify’. 

In what ways can roller skating impact physical and mental health?

Roller Skating is a fantastic way to do exercise yet not really feel like you are working all that hard! There are the physical benefits – such as getting fitter and stronger, better balance and core strength, but the mental health benefits are also so important to highlight. Skating has undoubtedly improved my mental health – I love that when I put my skates on I know that time is for me, to spend time with supportive people working towards a common goal. I leave sessions lighter and it gives me a break from the complexities of life.  I think this is a really important question to reflect on, so I asked for responses from a number of our skaters and officials:

“It’s a form of exercise which feels accessible as an overweight person – you see all shapes, heights and sizes in roller derby and everyone can take part. Learning skate skills really engages your work rate without you being aware as your brain is so focussed on footwork or skills (I’m never thinking ‘oh no still 10 minutes to go on this run’ etc). It will get your heart rate up in a safe and encouraging environment”

“There’s the usual ‘exercise is good for endorphins’ thing but roller derby has a really strong sense of community and is very mental health and neurodiverse inclusive. It is a place people can come and be themselves and take part in a sporting environment with supportive people.” 

Mentally, skating is the best thing. You can’t be sad when you can go ‘Weeeeeeeeeee’ past your friends. We have two Mental Health Champions in the league, so we know there is always someone to go to if you’re having a tough training session. They have the resources to signpost skaters if needed, and are excellent people to go to if anyone is struggling.

Roller derby has taken me to place I’d never thought I’d get to see and meet a lot of amazing people, and eaten a lot of amazing food. It can create a whole new family that you didn’t even know you wanted or needed. You get to hang out with people, watch Roller Derby, skate and have fun! It might be cheesy, but skating helps you learn to fall over and get back up again. Often skaters talk about finding resilience, I think that is really special about roller derby. 

What were your reasons for signing up to the Activity Finder?

I found out about this as a Mental Health Champion for Sport Birmingham and thought it would be a fantastic way to engage with more people from the community to get involved in roller skating. You can take part whether you are an experienced skater, brand new to skating, interested as an official, or even if you don’t want to skate we have non skating officials and volunteer roles as well. 

Please can you describe your experience of the Activity Finder sign up process and ease of use?

It was really easy to use, with helpful instructions and support when it was needed.

For more information and to get involved you can contact Birmingham Roller Derby at or visit their Facebook page