This April, Sport in Mind turns 11 years old. Happy Birthday to us!


Whilst there has undoubtedly been an enormous growth in the charity during this time, from the first session started over a decade ago, to the comprehensive programmes we are proud to offer now, we wanted to take this time to delve a little deeper into how the environment around us has changed since Sport in Minds inception 11 years ago.

Who better to discuss this with than Sport in Mind founder Neil Harris?

Neil, what would you say is the biggest change you’ve seen from 11 years ago to now?

“We have seen so many changes since Sport in Mind’s inception as a charity 11 years ago, but the biggest change for us has undoubtedly been the huge increase in the number of people needing support for their mental health. Adults, children, young people, men, women – everyone!

Demand for Sport in Mind’s service has increased year on year, some of this has undoubtedly been due to our charity’s enhanced profile through winning awards like the Queen’s Award of Voluntarily Services, but primarily this is simply due to the growing number of people that need support. We have seen first-hand how demand for NHS mental health services has increased and what an amazing job they do with such limited capacity.”


Do you think part of the growth in demand is due to the fact more people are willing to talk about their mental health now vs 11 years ago?

“Absolutely. One of the key positive changes we have seen over the last decade has been the public’s greater awareness of mental health and their willingness to talk about it. Over the years there has been a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding about mental illness, however, we have seen a huge amount of work over the last 11 years going into breaking down this stigma and encouraging people to speak more openly about how they are feeling. Sport in Mind has for many years effectively used sport as a tool to engage people to have conversations about their mental health and we are really seeing the benefits now, with a much greater public awareness.”


It really is such positive step change to see people more willingly talking about their mental health and as such seeking intervention much earlier. Sport in Mind is of course hugely proud of the fact that people can attend our sessions with or without a referral, making support very accessible and taking away another barrier to seeking help when its needed.

Do you think there are more options in general available to people needing support now, and are they easier to access?

“With the public speaking more openly about mental health and the stigma effectively being broken down, this has undoubtedly played a key role in the huge increase we have seen in demand for mental health services. Despite the rapidly growing demand for these services, the options available for support remain patchy across the country – with some areas having a wide variety of services available and others having very little. The accessibility of services has in many areas improved though and with the introduction of social prescribing initiatives nationally there is great potential for people experiencing mental health problems to have a much wider variety of quality services very soon”


With mental health in general more widely discussed, there seems to be a positive shift in how mental health in the workplace is viewed. How do you see workplaces supporting their employee’s vs 11 years ago?

“Mental Health is now firmly on the agenda for workplaces, with many creating wellbeing strategies and training their staff in Mental Health First Aid to help identify staff who may be struggling mentally and offer them support. We have seen with some of our corporate partners the fantastic programmes they have in place not only reactively to provide support to those who need it, but also proactively to prevent problems arising in the first place”


A great example of this are the measures in place at the Cooperative Bank. We asked Stuart Dougal, Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing, to share how they support their staff.  

“With wellbeing encompassing anything and everything from the right culture, good leadership, staff having a good relationship with their line manager and feeling empowered, to a comprehensive benefits package, it is vitally important to utilise all options at our disposal. Amongst others these include initiatives such as our monthly wellbeing training courses as part of the 2022 Wellbeing Plan and also a focus on ensuring staff understand about common gender specific health conditions and focus on how we can support each other.

Communication is also key.

As the landscape for which the Co-Operative bank staff work within changes, it will remain vitally important to ensure that our well-being approach evolves to meet the needs of a progressive organisation and workforce”


One of the biggest changes for Sport in Mind in recent years is the introduction of our Children and Young People Programme. We asked Sport in Mind Trustee, former Headteacher and Educational Consultant Derek Peaple his thoughts on this. Derek, how important is it to educate our young people on the importance of looking after their mental health?

Four related thoughts. Firstly, the increase in the challenge to young people’s mental health, closely related to the incremental and, in many respects, insidious rise of social media over this period. Secondly, the intensification of these challenges as a result of the emotional impact of disruption and isolation during lockdown. Thirdly, the cumulative impact of both of these developments across the whole community served by schools: young people, their families – and also staff. It is instructive to note that, for the first time, even Ofsted now report on staff wellbeing. And fourthly, as already noted, an increased openness and willingness to discuss mental health. Rather than an ‘issue to be addressed’, reactively as it arose, schools are now adopting a far more proactive approach, reflected in positive curriculum development in areas such as Personal and Health Education. And its in this sphere that the work of Sport in mind is so valuable, as reflected in our recent Blog to coincide with Children’s Mental Health Week in February.


Finally, Neil, what is the biggest positive change you have seen since you started Sport in Mind 11 years ago?

“The biggest positive change we have seen since starting the charity 11 years ago is people’s acceptance of mental health. In the past conversations about mental illness were very much taboo, but society has come a long way over the last decade.

This is clearly demonstrated by the number of celebrities and sports people who come out and speak to the media about their mental health challenges. Going back even 7 or 8 years it was still fairly rare that high profile people would discuss their mental health publicly, but nowadays every month there are celebrities and sports people who go public about their mental health struggles. Having high profile people speaking about their own personal situation in turn helps the public feel more comfortable about the struggles they may be going through and helps them not feel so alone.

So much has changed over the last 11 years for Sport in Mind, when we were established, it was often quite difficult for us to get people to discuss mental health and fully embrace the work we were delivering, however, today life is very different – we have people connecting with us from all across the UK and abroad, keen to get involved and support the work we are doing.

From supporting 1 person at a football session 11 years ago to having now used sport to help the recovery of over 15,000 people it’s been quite a journey… and lots more to come”




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