Man running over a bridge
Movember funding to scale up sports project in south of EnglandImage by: Sport In Mind
Man running over a bridge
16 August 2023

Movember funding to scale up mental health sports project in south of England

4 minutes read time

When Neil Harris called on his friend Jamie to persuade him to go out for a walk, he could not have imagined that it would inspire a charity which would go on to help thousands of people with mental health problems.

A personal struggle and a unique solution

Back in 2009, Jamie had suffered a breakdown, becoming isolated and anxious to the point where he felt unable to leave his house. Although he was struggling mentally, Jamie was reluctant to engage with traditional mental health services.

Keen to help his friend, Neil devised a physical activity programme to help aid his recovery. Within nine months, Jamie’s symptoms had reduced enough to allow him to return to working full time.

The birth of Sport in Mind

In 2010, driven by that success, Neil decided to set up the Sport in Mind charity, with the aim of providing accessible sport and physical activity sessions for people experiencing mental health problems in Reading, Berkshire.

From local success to wider impact

To begin with, he set up a football group for men who were physically inactive, socially isolated and struggling with their mental health. Within six months, 95% of participants were showing improved mental health and 92% were accessing NHS mental health services. The success of the programme resulted in a partnership with Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Scaling What Works: Movember's Grant

Through Movember’s Scaling What Works grant funding programme, Sport in Mind is aiming to expand its Thames Valley mental health sports interventions for men throughout the south of England and Wales including Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Wiltshire, Somerset, Bristol, and Gloucestershire.

Reaching vulnerable men

The programme is aiming to reach 500 men, aged 16+, who are struggling with their mental health and not currently engaging with traditional mental health services. Most of the men taking part will come from socially disadvantaged communities, living in the most deprived areas of the south of England and Wales, with many unemployed.

Sports for wellness: A holistic approach

The project delivers fun weekly accessible sports sessions that improve mental, physical, and social health. Each activity is chosen, based on its effectiveness at engaging male audiences including football, table tennis, and cricket.

Fighting isolation and improving lives

During the sessions, men are given information about healthy living and, crucially, combating isolation – a key risk factor for suicide and deteriorating mental health. A 2020 evaluation of 752 men who took part in the programme demonstrated that after six months in the sessions, 86% displayed reduced levels of anxiety, 82% had reduced symptoms of depression, 91% had improved levels of self-esteem, and 84% had improved physical health.

Neil's Vision and Movember's Support

Neil says:

“Our work uses sport (something men are very comfortable with) as a tool to engage them, provide a safe space where they can be themselves, socialize and crucially have fun. Sport In Mind's work over the last decade has proven highly effective at providing men accessible opportunities to get active, breakdown barriers and offer them that positive focus many of them are missing.

“Myself and the team here at Sport in Mind have long been aware of the great work that Movember has been doing both here in the UK and abroad, and we're excited to now be working closely with them. Movember’s funding will help us in scaling up what we do best - reaching men before they are at a crisis point, getting them active and providing a crucial lifeline to an audience whose needs are simply not being met by society.”

Rhiannon Watt, programs manager, community & workplace, at Movember says:

“We know from our previous program work that sport and exercise are powerful tools for both engaging men with their mental health as well as improving their overall well-being. We are looking forward to working with Sport in Mind in scaling up this fantastic evidence-based program and seeing the impact it has on local communities throughout the south of England.”

Find out more about Sport in Mind or sign up for a session.