Case study

Getting everyone talking at the Sport and Recreation Alliance

Ben Jessup
Ben Jessup

Policy Advisor,
Sport and Recreation Alliance

4 mins

Whether it’s a football team working on new strategies, an athlete with a team of trainers and therapists keeping them in top condition, or an office securing new sponsors for a drag racer, communication is a critical component of sporting success.

And it was in this spirit of openness and cooperation that Ben Jessup, Policy Advisor at the Sport and Recreation Alliance Sport and Recreation Alliance The Sport and Recreation Alliance champions grassroots sport and recreation and offers advice and support to the sector. View organisation, decided to work with colleagues to set up his organisation’s first mental health working group – with the goal of kicking off conversations and breaking down taboos.

“You could say that we’re finding ways to create a positive ‘dressing room’ approach to mental health,” says Ben. “We’re building an office environment where everybody feels that their colleagues have got their back.”

Getting our children and young people active; Getting more people volunteering in sport; Making sure the sector is fit for the future; Demonstrating the social and economic value of sport and recreation

The Sport and Recreation Alliance’s strategy focuses on four main areas to promote an active nation through sport and recreation.

At first glance, Ben’s task may appear daunting – the Sport and Recreation Alliance represents over 320 member organisations, ranging from household names such as the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union to smaller, more niche clubs such as QuidditchUK and British Carriagedriving. The Alliance itself has over 20 members of staff. However, alongside a range of colleagues, Ben was able to introduce a new strategy which has helped to make positive conversations about mental health a normal part of life for all their employees.

It’s definitely not just a ‘top-down’ strategy. It’s important that ideas come from across our organisation.

He helped set up a working group, featuring input from across the organisation, with the aim of encouraging honest, open and positive conversations surrounding mental health. The Alliance decided to ensure the tone was set by the people who would be most affected by the service, rather than being imposed by their leaders. “It’s definitely not just a ‘top-down’ strategy,” he explains. “Managers are part of the working group, but there are junior staff in there too. It’s important that ideas come from across our organisation.”

This working group takes advantage of dates like World Mental Health Day and Mental Health Awareness Week to underline their message. But they also work hard to ensure employees feel supported on standard workdays too. “One of the simple things we’ve got on our action plan is making the topic more visible around the office through visual reminders,” says Ben. “So, on the back of toilet doors we have a reminder about our Employee Assistance Programme and the counselling services available.”

Asking managers to always put wellbeing on the agenda in one-to-ones​Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England Line Managers’ Resource PDF This resource is regarded as highly valuable by line managers across private, public and third-sector organisations to help them create healthier workplaces.Free By: Mental Health First Aid England View resource has further helped to make talking about mental health a normal part of everyday work. “It doesn’t need to be formalised, but it’s ensuring managers feel empowered to have what can be fairly candid conversations.”

We’re looking at how we can make sure physical activity is being deployed to support wellbeing.

It was important for the Alliance to ensure their own values were being reflected in this working group – and being a sporting organisation, that means getting active. “We’re looking at how we can make sure physical activity is being deployed to support wellbeing,” Ben explains. “It’s about thinking how we can get people engaging with each other both inside and outside of work in a different way.”

To monitor progress there’s a simple confidential questionnaire hosted through SurveyMonkey offering staff a sliding scale of how they are feeling, and whether they have access to support. “We’re already seeing the trends – the times when staff are busier,” says Ben. “It’s there that we can encourage them to prioritise their wellbeing. The response has been really good overall.”

They’ve also arranged dedicated training sessions with an external supplier. “They cover how to approach someone if you’re concerned they’re struggling with their mental health,” says Ben. “And it’s also about empowering staff to manage their own mental health too.”

A range of icons relating to sport, physical activity and mental health, including a brain, a person swimming, an ice skate, a heart, a tennis racket, a bicycle, a hiker, a wheelchair racer, a heartbeat graph, a medal and a basketball player

The Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation can be applied to an enormous range of sport and physical activity.

This is not the first commitment the Sport and Recreation Alliance have made towards improving mental health discussions in their organisation. The group have just celebrated the fourth anniversary of its Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation​The Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation Website Sport and recreation organisations can sign up to the Mental Health Charter to make a commitment to take positive action around mental health. You pledge three initial actions—and there are samples and templates to get you going.Free By: Sport and Recreation Alliance View resource, which was launched in March 2015. More than 300 signatories have pledged their support to date, having committed to “taking direct action to create an inclusive sporting environment, encouraging positive conversations about mental health and actively challenging the stigma around the subject.”

Staff at every level should have a chance to input into our plans and activity.

“We absolutely need senior leaders to champion mental health at work, but there is real value in empowering more junior staff to take action themselves to drive the change they want to see across their organisation,” adds Ben. “That’s the approach we’ve taken at the Sport and Recreation Alliance, with senior colleagues making it very clear that we have to prioritise this internally, but also that staff at every level should have a chance to input into our plans and activity. That is the way that real change will be delivered.”

Ben Jessup

Ben Jessup
Policy Advisor,
Sport and Recreation Alliance

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