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Groundbreaking mental health project wins UEFA award

Groundbreaking mental health project wins UEFA award

Date published: 30/06/2014
Certificate presentation with L – R: Brendan Walshe (Essex FA), David James (London FA), John Hollins (Vice President, London Playing Fields Foundation), Alex Welsh (Chief Executive, London Playing Fields Foundation), Dave McDermott (Football Foundat

A groundbreaking project that helps people with significant mental health problems to get their lives back on track has been recognised by UEFA as part of its Grassroots Awards as a shining example of how football can be used to improve the lives of one of society’s most disadvantaged and marginalised groups. 

Coping Through Football, a project, which was inspired by the London Playing Fields Foundation (LPFF), uses football as a means of improving physical health, increasing self-esteem and confidence and enhancing social skills of people with significant mental health problems.  In partnership with North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT) and Leyton Orient Community Sports Programme (LOCSP) the project is delivered in four north east London boroughs.

Launched in Waltham Forest in 2007, the project has just received additional funding from the Dr Mortimer & Theresa Sackler Foundation and Wembley National Stadium Trust to expand into the London boroughs of Redbridge, Havering and Barking and Dagenham and also target teenagers experiencing the onset of mental illness. The inspiration behind the project was that suicide in the UK is the second biggest killer of 18-25 year old men. The root cause can be traced to mental health issues of which 50% have started by the age of 14 and 75% by the mid 20’s.

Some of the results have been stunning with 44% of participants in Phase 1 going on to training, education, volunteering or employment. Some have even said that had it not been for Coping Through Football they may have contemplated suicide. The opportunity to take part in regular football coaching sessions in a safe and welcoming environment can be a powerful attraction for people who have been marginalised from society by their mental illness.  Over time the sessions have become part of the participants’ weekly routine and strong friendships are established which extend beyond the football pitch and there are many examples of participants joining local football clubs or regularly playing small sided football with a group of friends.  

The UEFA Grassroots Award was presented by LPFF Vice President and Chelsea and Arsenal legend John Hollins at the official launch of the project’s extension on 18th June at London Marathon Playing Field, Redbridge.  Among the guests at the event was Dave McDermott, Director of Stakeholder Development at the Football Foundation who were one of the principal initial funders in 2007 and without whose support the project would not have taken off. The grant had helped to establish a project which had continued to flourish, providing a positive impact on the health and well being of the local community.

 Also present on the day were David James of London FA and Phil Sammons and Brendan Walshe of Essex FA, two county football associations that have played a key role in supporting the LPFF’s project work to widen football participation. 

Chief Executive of London Playing Fields Foundation Alex Welsh said:

“We are delighted with this UEFA award which recognises two things. Firstly, the role that community playing fields can play in transforming the lives of even the most disadvantaged of groups; and secondly, the importance of innovative partnership working in delivering sports projects that have huge additional health and social benefits” 

Barbara Armstrong, Lead for Social Inclusion and Joint Lead Occupational Therapist from NELFT who has overseen the expansion of the Coping Through Football project, said:

“NELFT is committed to delivering services that are recovery-focussed and promote social inclusion.

It is fantastic that Coping Through Football, which has helped so many people with their recovery from mental health problems, has been recognised by UEFA. 

Within mental health it is recognised that there is no ’benchmark’ of what someone's recovery should look like or how quickly someone needs to achieve their goals.  This has been key to the success of Coping Through Football in realising the potential of those individuals using our services.”

For more information, please contact...

Katherine Hegarty, Communications Manager 

London Playing Fields Foundation

Katherine.hegarty@lpff.org.uk or 020 7713 8684


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