Students from Tyne Metropolitan College (TyneMet) have taken part in breakthrough research which could point the way to improved wellbeing among some of the North East’s most disadvantaged young people.

They joined researchers from Brunel University London and the charity StreetGames in a study that found training community sports coaches in mental health awareness could have significant benefits.

It revealed that positive mental health was enhanced among those who participated in doorstep sports programmes - informal sports clubs aimed at 14 to 25-year-olds living in areas of high deprivation.

This was especially the case when support staff, including sports coaches, sports development officers, leisure service managers, community leaders, education specialists, young peer mentors and StreetGames advisors, had received mental health awareness training.

For the study programme, the mental wellbeing of 184 people taking part in doorstep sports projects in Salford, in Manchester, Brentwood, in Essex, Leeds, Birmingham, The Wirral, Warrington and Newcastle, was tracked between February 2017 and May 2018.

The tracked projects, which offered sports including football, golf, boxing and pilates, were led by StreetGames’ teams who had recently taken part in its pilot Safe, Fit & Well mental health awareness training programme.

Researchers found the number of young people reporting a level of ‘high wellbeing’, as measured by the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS), increased in all cases after coaches had taken the training.

TyneMet reported a jump of 63% in the number of their members reporting a level of high wellbeing – from 11% of the participants at the beginning of the study, to 74% at the end.

The number of participants with a level of ‘low wellbeing’ dropped, with TyneMet reporting that by the end of the study, all the members taking part had either medium or high levels of wellbeing.

The bespoke staff training included Mental Health First Aid training, a four-day Young Health Champions residential in the Lake District, a webinar on how to evidence wellbeing, and on-hand or on-call support from a specialist StreetGames Doorstep Sport Advisor.

The training allowed front line staff to better identify mental health or wellbeing concerns among the young people and, if necessary, provide support.

It is hoped the research, titled Safe, Fit and Well: Case Study Research, by Prof Louise Mansfield and Dr Alistair John PhD, of Brunel’s Welfare, Health and Wellbeing research theme, will help provide a deeper understanding of the role community sports have in supporting good mental health.

Craig Robson, Sports Development Manager at TyneMet, said: “The Safe, Fit & Well project offered us the opportunity to work with students within our college who struggled with confidence, self-esteem, weight worries, anxiety, anger issues and other aspects linked to poor mental wellbeing.

“It was great to be able to work with these students and provide experiences that enabled them to improve their physical wellbeing through one-to-one gym sessions. To see their confidence and motivation levels increase, was rewarding for us as staff.

“Tyne Metropolitan College will be looking to run this project again this academic year so that more students at risk of poor wellbeing can be offered this valuable support system.”

Dr Alistair John said: “We found that doorstep sport, particularly when tailored to the needs of young people with mental health issues, had a positive impact on self-reported mental health.

“Many of the doorstep sport projects also had peer-to-peer support embedded, which we discovered was particularly beneficial for improving self-esteem, confidence, a sense of belonging and de-stigmatizing mental health.”

Manchester-based StreetGames was founded in 2005 to make sport more widely available for disadvantaged young people and to maximise the power of sport to change young lives and to change disadvantaged communities.

Paul Jarvis-Beesley, Head of Sport & Health at StreetGames, said: “We already know that levels of poor mental health are exacerbated by poverty.

“We are starting to understand the effect of adverse childhood experiences on the emotional and behavioural difficulties of young people in disadvantaged areas.

“We also recognise that low wellbeing and depressive conditions are barriers to participation, so if we can find a way to support young people with their mental health and wellbeing, we would also be helping them to participate more.”