Today a very special mental health service for football fans was launched by Sunderland AFC supporters group the Branch Liaison Council, the club’s official charity Foundation of Light, and local charity Washington Mind.
Opened by SAFC legends Kieron Brady, Kevin Ball and Gary Bennett, as well as BBC Radio Newcastle commentator Nick Barnes, the Hub is the first of its kind in the country and offers anyone who is experiencing difficult times a place to go for support and advice.
Based at the Beacon of Light on Stadium Park, the Hub will be open from 1145 to 1445 before every Saturday SAFC match, welcoming Black Cats fans but also travelling fans who are visiting Sunderland.
It will be staffed by two trained counsellors from Washington Mind as well as volunteers from the Branch Liaison Council.
The Match Day Mental Health Hub was developed by the Branch Liaison Council as a means for fans to support fans, and forms part of the Foundation’s ‘Heads First’ initiative which aims to promote positive mental health change through a range of new initiatives and programmes.
Speaking about the Match Day Mental Health Hub, Branch Liaison Council Secretary Cath Reid said: “The Branch Liaison Council is very proud to be working with Foundation of Light and Washington Mind to provide our Match Day Mental Health Hub.
“Sadly, we have lost members to suicide and as a group we wanted to do something to help support our fellow fans suffering from mental health issues. We also wanted to help equip our branch organisers to help identify members who may be struggling.
“We have worked with Washington Mind to deliver ‘A Life Worth Living – suicide prevention in the community awareness session’ to members but we wanted to do more, and we wanted to give fans a place to go on match days if they needed support.
“The Match Day Mental Health Hub is not a crisis centre. It offers support to signpost fans to areas of help. It may be the individual is struggling with anxiety or depression and doesn’t have anyone to talk to, or a worried family member – the Hub is there to provide the resources where they can come along and speak to a qualified counsellor in complete confidence, while at the same time helping to equip our volunteers with the confidence to ask people how they’re feeling, reminding them not to be afraid of asking for help.”
Fans are being encouraged by the Foundation to be a game changer and help end the stigma around mental health by signing up to the Heads First Fans Mental Health Pledge, developed in partnership with Washington Mind.
By signing the pledge, fans are committing in any way they can to:
- support changing the negative attitudes towards mental health
- not be afraid to start conversations with friends, family and colleagues
- encourage those who may be struggling to seek help and support
Joining forces with Washington Mind, Foundation of Light are now able to support people to try new sports and activities to help improve both their physical and mental health. These activities will be funded by money raised through the national ‘On Your Side’ charity partnership between Mind and the EFL (English Football League).
Foundation of Light’s Head of Sport and Wellbeing, Liz Barton-Jones said “The Match Day Mental Health Hub is an absolutely fantastic initiative and we are delighted to be working alongside the BLC and Washington Mind to deliver this ground-breaking service to fans.
So many people in this region struggle with anxiety, stress and depression and the aim of our Heads First campaign is to play our part in helping more people live happier and healthier lives.
“Earlier this year we raised over £30,000 to tackle mental health through our ‘Give a Quid’ campaign. Heads First is the next step in that journey as we work alongside a number of partners, including Washington Mind and the BLC to put meaningful measures in place to support our community.
“The supporter branches have been really supportive of our work, so it is fitting that we are able to use money from our Give a Quid campaign to fund this project. It is important that we all support each other and there is something very moving and inspiring to see fans supporting fans in this way.
“The Heads First Mental Health Pledge and the Mental Health Match Day Hub are fantastic and unique initiatives. Whilst we are proud that we are the first club in the UK to put these in place, I hope that others follow suit and that these initiatives are replicated across the country.
To find out more about the Match Day Mental Health Hub, sign the Heads First Fans Mental Health Pledge, and learn more about Get Set to Go and the other initiatives available, visit www.foundationoflight.co.uk/pledge
Written By CHRIS FRYATT
4 November 2019