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Mind Games

Physical activity can significantly improve mental wellbeing. We look at some of the ways the sector is helping people suffering mental health issues.

Mental health is highly topical, and rightly so – by 2030, it’s estimated two million adults in the UK will have mental health problems. The leisure industry is perfectly placed to help people with mental health issues in the community, One study found 12 per cent of depression cases could be prevented if everyone got just one hour of exercise a week.

Proving social value

“Social value now sits at the heart of strategic investment into sport and physical activity,” says Alice John, business development manager at 4global. “Delivery and commissioning organisations need a credible and accurate understanding of what community savings are being generated by their work in areas like improving health and tackling mental health issues.”

Developed in partnership with Experian, Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) and 4global, DataHub’s Social Value Calculator (SVC) accurately measures the social value generated from investment in sport and physical activity. It uses evidence-based, academic research linked to operator intelligence taken from more than 550 million visits to 2,000 leisure facilities.

The SVC calculates the social cost savings delivered by an individual provider across five categories which are shown below.

In 2016, the estimated social value generated by leisure centre operators increased by 0.5 per cent.

  • Depression accounts for 0.40 per cent of the overall social value generated.
  • Improved health accounts for 13.3 per cent of the overall social value generated.
  • Improved subjective wellbeing (life satisfaction) accounts for 84.1 per cent of the overall social value generated.
  • Increased educational attainment accounts for 2.5 per cent of the overall social value generated.
  • Reduced crime accounts for 0.05 per cent of the overall social value generated.


John says, “The depression measure has been created by SHU using research supported by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England. It allows operators to refine their offer in a targeted way and create programming to successfully address the mental health agenda.”

Fundamentally, the module enables users to get a true reflection of the value they are generating by getting and keeping residents with anxiety and depression active. Using indicies of multiple deprivation data and lifestyle data to profile participants, the model is appreciative of local contexts like areas of high deprivation, and also helps operators to understand likely outcomes and impacts. 


Integrating back into society

The award-winning social enterprise Sport For Confidence places allied health professionals alongside sports coaches to provide physical activity to people who face barriers to participation, including those with mental health issues.

Based at seven leisure centres across Essex and Waltham Forest, the organisation delivers more than 1,500 interventions every week. The organisation also delivers bespoke, closed programmes on behalf of specific organisations. 

Rehabilitation and support to inpatients at Brockfield House

Through its connection with the Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, Sport For Confidence provides services to inpatients at this medium/low secure service to help them integrate back into society. Sessions are structured to accommodate small groups of up to six. Using sport as the delivery vehicle, participants are given opportunities to practice life and occupational performance skills under the supervision of an occupational therapist and sports coach. These are skills which individuals can carry with them from the field of play into their everyday lives.

 “The programme is providing a lifeline to many individuals who are dealing with ongoing mental health challenges. Integration back into the community is a terrifying prospect for many of them,” says Kayleigh Reardon, an occupational therapist with Brockfield House.

“Individuals within forensic mental health services are often detained for long periods of time without any, or limited access to the community. As a result, many become institutionalised and experience significant difficulties and anxiety when accessing the community. Attending the weekly Sport For Confidence sessions gives individuals a unique opportunity to visit a mainstream, non-clinical environment and get fully involved in structured, physical activity sessions.

The sessions take place at the Farm Leisure Centre and are adapted to enable meaningful and rewarding inclusion for all. The programme has been running for 18 months during which time Sport For Confidence has delivered more than 250 patient interactions.


Tackling men’s mental health

Suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, with 12 men taking their lives every day. In the UK, men are three times as likely to take their own lives than women.

Former Leeds Rhinos and Halifax rugby player, Luke Ambler, set up Andy’s Man Club after his brother-in-law took his own life. The aim is to help men talk more about their problems in a safe, stigma free environment.

Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) has been hosting a free Andy’s Man Club (AMC) service, every week for almost two years. The club takes place at Chadderton Wellbeing Centre, where OCL donates space for free. More than 300 men visit AMCs across the country every week.

Kelly Tattersal, OCL community and partnership development officer, has been involved since the club’s inception. She explains, “Men can discuss whatever they wish. There are no bookings, no referrals and no charges. We aren’t professionals; it’s just a peer-to-peer support group for like-minded men to get things off their chest. Some just come to listen.”

Offering Andy’s Man Club is a way to help tackle mental health issues in the community says Stuart Lockwood, chief executive at OCL. “It’s often much easier for men to say they’re off to the gym than it would be to say they’re going for therapy, so a leisure centre is the ideal venue.”

There are currently 17 Andy’s Man Clubs across the UK. Now in prisons, the clubs will eventually be rolled out across the entire prison estate.


Reducing isolation among university students

The University of Leeds has a large international student population. Many students attend the Business School. It sits on the outskirts of campus, making it more difficult for these students to engage with on-campus activities that take place at the university’s fitness, sport, and wellbeing complex The Edge.

Every year, the Sport and Physical Activity department conducts a Balancing Life Survey to identify the activity levels of staff and students, looking at the areas of the campus where there is more opportunity to get involved.

Engaging international students, especially through activities that support their experience of British culture, was identified as a key area of focus. The survey identified the need to build networks and increase integration of students from different cultural backgrounds. It also revealed that there are thousands of students looking to learn new languages and wanting opportunities to incorporate language learning into real-life settings.

Working with the International Office, the Sport and Physical Activity service decided to undertake a pilot to leverage the group exercise studio The Edge. In partnership with Les Mills, the university launched a timetable of Les Mills Virtual classes in Mandarin over Christmas 2017.  With marketing and promotional support led by the International Office, the team hoped the Mandarin content could become a permanent fixture on the timetable. 

The Mandarin virtual classes attracted 155 participants across the two-week festive period.” Naturally, we see a dip in group exercise over the Christmas period, so to get the volume of people we did was very impressive,” said James Buckley, physical activity, health and wellbeing manager at the University of Leeds

The same programme was replicated over Easter 2018 and results were even more positive with 244 participants taking part in the classes. In fact, the numbers for virtual Mandarin content stood-up favourably against other content in English.

One of the most impressive parts of the programme was how well it highlighted the power of group exercise in reducing isolation and the classes helped make students feel more integrated into the Edge community.

“It is very common for international students to remain on campus out of term time. Various departments work collaboratively to provide a programme of activity to reduce feelings of isolation and foster opportunities to integrate international with UK students, both during term time and throughout holiday breaks. The Les Mills group exercise classes was a perfect example of this working to full effect. Also with more students taking part in Les Mills virtual classes in Mandarin, we have seen the positive effect group exercise can have on integrating these classes into the language learning process, building new social groups and looking after wellbeing all at the same time ” said Buckley.

The university now boasts 85 per cent occupancy rate across 245 classes per week.

The university is looking to add Les Mills Virtual programming in additional languages, expanding the classes to other on-campus venues. An Innovation Centre is opening this year, which will offer a virtual exercise studio. 

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