A Swindon Town football coaching programme for mental health sufferers is set to expand thanks to a coronavirus fund grant.
The club’s Super Robins team, run by the Swindon Town Community Foundation, has been awarded £4,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund. The fund has raised more than £1.1 million and distributed £950,000 through more than 200 grants to groups across the county to help them tackle the fallout from the pandemic.
The Super Robins team launched three years ago, provides coaching to dozens of adults referred by MIND and the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership.
The group’s weekly sessions were originally funded by the Football League and the Wembley Trust, but their funding ended last September. The foundation paid for them itself until March but after losing income during the lockdown, it was struggling to find the money.
Senior development officer Phil Doble said: “We understand the importance but to continue it we needed some help. We have to hire an entire pitch and we need two or three coaches. It was an expense we had no income for, so we were really grateful to the Wiltshire Community Foundation for supporting us with the funding.”
He is now working on expanding the sessions so more people can benefit and is talking to other groups in Swindon dealing with mental health, including Men’s Mental Health Swindon and TWIGS.
“We have a group of guys who are footballers using football to help their mental wellbeing but what we’d like to do is have a group that aren’t necessarily footballers but they can still use it as part of their recovery. Exercise and being outdoors is so important for your mental wellbeing and we want to help provide that.”
During the lockdown, the group’s sessions had to be cancelled, leaving its regulars without the exercise and companionship that is so vital to their recovery.
“It’s fair to say some of them struggled. We put a WhatsApp group together to stay in touch to keep the conversation flowing,” said Mr Noble. “When they came back, they were definitely subdued and slightly nervous and anxious about being out again,” he said.
For one regular the enforced absence from teammates was particularly tough. “I have two children and one has autism, so with his special needs and my depression, anxiety, and stress as well, it was difficult. I hit a proper all-time low, and was thinking about ending things,” he said.
“I got in contact with Swindon MIND and they told me the foundation’s football sessions were starting back up, so I came along. It’s just good to get back, and get some energy, and everything flowing through the bones. I’ve been back every week since, and I’m feeling a lot better for it.”
Mr Noble said although the coaching sessions provide exercise and football training, the benefits are far reaching. “There’s a light-heartedness to the sessions and they have a laugh and a joke at somebody’s expense, normally mine,” he said.
“You definitely see the camaraderie build up over the weeks. I don’t discuss their mental health issues with them at the sessions, they come along to be part of something and get some exercise, it’s not a therapy group and while they are here, they are footballers, not patients.”
Aside from the training, the team is treated as being part of the football club and has travelled with the team to watch it play at Newport County as well as representing the club in football tournaments and even on the County Ground pitch in a half-time match against Newport.
The link with the club was demonstrated when first team players visited the team with the League Two trophy they won last season and took part in a question and answer session. “That was a great boost for everyone,” said Mr Noble.
He said some team members spend just a few months with the group, while others are more long term. “We’ve had guys come to us who are really low, just out of hospital and we’ve seen them get back up on their feet,” he said. “We see them coming out of their shell and joining in but obviously the ideal is that they get back to the lives they had before, and they don’t come to us anymore.”
Find out more about the Super Robins by searching for Swindon Town FC Community Foundation on Facebook.
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk.