Imagine your Goals (IYG) is a partnership programme between Everton in the Community and Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust and it uses the power of football to positively address mental health illness by raising awareness and challenging societal stigma. Using football as a therapeutic tool the programme adopts a complete approach to supporting participants overall health and wellbeing. The programme supports people from marginalised groups to increase their participation and IYG delivers 7 football therapy sessions per week across Merseyside, engaging 200+ participants. This is the only or main sporting activity for 77% of participants.
IYG has delivered over 5,000 hours of football training and over 1,000 hours of mental wellbeing talks, discussions and workshops. The programme also improves physical health and mental wellbeing by providing weekly therapy football sessions across Merseyside. An independent report in the Journal of Mental Health Practice found that 100% of participants felt fitter, 94% had an improved sense of wellbeing, and 59% had fewer mental health symptoms – all from getting involved in the programme. IYG also organises the longest standing mental health football league in the UK involving 16 community mental health teams and 200 players per month. IYG are current national and double European football champions after winning the European Mental Health Championship in Hamburg Germany. The league helps to build players’ resilience through confidential and accessible support through their unique football therapy sessions and mentoring scheme.
Everton in the Community works to address and encourage people to be open about mental health issues by delivering the UK National Mental Health Football Championships on World Mental Health Day in October. They also raise awareness by organising exhibition matches at Everton FC home games and by distributing mental health awareness materials to home and away fans. To celebrate Mental Health awareness week, they have previously worked in collaboration with the University of Liverpool to organise a friendly football match where the IYG mental health service user team played against student psychologists in a blind test. The students were not told the background of the players who they were playing against and this was only revealed after the game when IYG had beaten them. Then followed an opportunity for IYG players to talk about their mental illness and how it feels accessing mental health support services, what person-centred care looked like for them and how football and community outreach had greatly enriched their wellbeing.
IYG uses first team players and coaches to engage with fans and speak out about the importance of talking about emotions and how to deal with pressure. IYG also trains participants from the programme who have experience of mental health issues to become peer mentors who help support fellow participants and deliver educational workshops. They have successfully delivered these workshops to over 2000 staff, volunteers, participants and members of the public staff, participants, volunteers and peer mentors in Mental Health awareness training, F.A. football coaching, mental health first aid and gym instructor qualifications. IYG actively promote mental health awareness and supports the ‘Time-to-Change’ campaign, signing an organisational pledge to stamp out mental health discrimination, as well as being signatories of the Sport and Recreation Alliance Mental Health charter. The key to their success is making sure the voice of the participant is valued and prioritised. IYG has supported 55 participants into active volunteer opportunities contributing 1,415 volunteer hours. 56% of these would not have volunteered if they had not participated in IYG. IYG volunteer time leverages a greater value per £1 spent than it could get additionally in gift aid per £1.
IYG are part of a 5 year MoU partnership with Edge Hill University (Times Higher, University of the Year 2015) that helped pioneer a dedicated research centre for Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health and launch the first of its kind MSc Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health, in September 2015.
With the increasing cuts to their budget, the prize money will be used to help sustain the programme over the next twelve months.
Jonathan Garside Health and Wellbeing Manager commented “Everton in the Community, working in partnership with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, continually strive to improve the health and wellbeing of our local community. An important way we do this is by raising awareness of mental health and challenging stigma. We are delighted that our work has been recognised in this way by the Community Sport and Recreation Awards. We will use the prize money to continue our work, share best practice and champion the therapeutic use of football for mental wellbeing.”