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The Oxford Social Inclusion Cup is more than just a football tournament. It brings together people who have experienced mental health problems, members of the local community and health services to promote positive social inclusion. Jon Regler, founder of the inclusion cup explains more.

Each year, around World Mental Health Day, we bring together people in the local community to play in our Oxford Social Inclusion Cup and this year was no different.

At Streets Revolution C.I.C we aim to use sport and leisure activities as a tool to engage marginalised sections of the community. At the heart of what we do is the belief that sport is unique in its ability to bring people together from all sorts of backgrounds for a common goal. And, in 2010, we started the Oxford Social Inclusion Cup to drive awareness for World Mental Health Day and World Homeless Action Day. The inaugural cup brought together teams from a variety of organisations that work with marginalised adults in communities from Oxfordshire. Through their involvement, the organisations were able to promote the work that they do as well as making sure participants had a positive experience.

Now in its sixth year, teams from mental health and drug services and homeless organisations took part alongside mainstream football clubs and even the Thames Valley Police. Everyone who attended the day had the same focus and that was to play and enjoy the day but most importantly achieve a mutual goal of raising awareness and breaking down the stigma on and off the pitch.

When people ask me what the key message of the Oxford Social Inclusion Cup ‘More than Words’ is about I explain to them that we want to give participants something to associate themselves with. We will make sure that players can label themselves with something that isn’t homelessness or mental health or any of the other negatives in their lives. Everyone who comes along and is part of our day has been harmed or marginalised by words in some way – whether through labels that society has decided to put on them or simply because of a lack of positive, affirmative words in their lives. However, sport has a universal language and this is why we believe that sport works to break down barriers that exclude people from society. When the cup is in full flow, all you see are football players and just for a day this is all the participants see themselves.

I’ve witnessed the cup grow not just in terms of numbers but also in strength of organisation. A better organised tournament allows us to really focus on what matters to us and that is making sure that participants have a positive experience. A development of this, is a newly established football league and again, participants don’t have to have suffered from mental health problems as we encourage everyone to get involved and help promote social inclusion.

So how have we got to this stage? We work in partnership with local health services in Oxfordshire, so that we can involve people who can really benefit from our initiative. If you are looking to engage health services in your local area, then my best advice would be to make sure that you find what I call a champion in each organisation. A champion, can be anyone who is on board with your objective and can help to establish the relationship you need to get a health service or provider on board. Of course, you will need to be persistent but I have found this to be one of the most successful ways of engaging with organisations in the health sector. If you’re not getting the right answer, make sure you keep going.

There is also an advantage to speaking to as many people as possible as we believe that the best way to promote the social inclusion cup is by word of mouth.

If you are interested in hearing more about what we do, then please visit our website http://www.streetsrevolution.com/