Cambridge United Community Trust

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Footballers can help tackle the nation's mental health issues in schools, according to a new report

A pilot scheme, run by Cambridge United Community Trust, has increased pupils' understanding of the topic, as players reveal ways in which they look after their own mental health.

The programme is part of Cambridge United’s announcement in July of their plan to become a ‘Mentally Healthy’ Football Club.

The Mind Your Head programme has seen staff and players from the League Two side visit six schools in the city, working alongside pupils in the classroom.

More than 500 pupils aged 12-14 have so far taken part in targeted lessons covering areas including wellbeing, social media and coping with stress.

Over the course of six weeks, six one-hour sessions have included presentations, Q&As and watching videos in which male and female players revealed their own experiences with mental health.

The aim of the scheme was to increase the participants’ knowledge of mental health issues, improve resilience and understand the importance of good mental health.

An evaluation of the programme, carried out by Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie School of Education, observed that all the pupils taking part had benefited from increased awareness and knowledge of the topic.

Report author Professor Jonathan Glazzard said: “Mind Your Head is a great example of the education sector working with the community to improve an issue of vital importance.

“Many people are still reluctant to talk about their mental health, so it’s empowering when footballers talk publically about their issues, such as stress and looking after their own mental health.

“They tend to have experienced their own mental health issues: athletes have a perfectionist trait that provides them with the motivation to succeed, but also has drawbacks in terms of the associated pressures.

“The work being undertaken in Cambridge has shown significant improvements in mental health literacy among the pupils involved. This sort of initiative, carried out on a national scale, could only help improve knowledge and understanding of mental health among school children.”

Before pupils took part in the programme, tests were carried out to gauge their mental health “literacy” – their knowledge about mental disorders with regard to recognition, management and prevention.

In the initial tests, pupils scored on average 66.7 per cent for mental health literacy. After the project, this rose to 72.4 per cent, a statistically significant increase.

All different gender and ethnic groups analysed saw increases in mental health literacy from the programme. Girls had initially higher mental health literacy scores and also finished higher than boys.

The evaluation report said: “They (the pupils) were able to identify the signs of mental illness and they could describe ways of supporting others who experience mental ill health.

“They were able to identify population groups at risk of developing mental ill health. They could talk about the importance of being resilient in the face of adversity and they were able to identify the negative effects of social media and ways of keeping themselves safe online.

“They valued the opportunity to develop their awareness of mental health through listening to athletes speaking about their own issues.”

The report added: “It is possible that the programme delivered in Cambridge will lead to improvements in adolescent mental health.”

Finally the report concluded: “Overall, Mind Your Head is clearly valued by pupils and schools and delivers measurable, statistically significant improvements in Mental Health Literacy across all genders and ethnicities.”

Ben Szreter, CEO of Cambridge United Community Trust, said “The project has been a great success so far. The schools we have worked with have been so welcoming and it’s great that football is able to contribute positively to the young people’s understanding of their own mental health.”

“It has become increasingly obvious that mental health is an area that needs real social attention. Our programme aimed to gain young people’s interest in the topic by using the context of professional football and we are delighted that so far that seems to have been effective.

Cambridge United Community Trust have confirmed that Mind Your Head would continue again in the current academic year with new pupils from the schools previously delivered in and also and expansion into more schools around Cambridgeshire. Mind Your Head has been funded by donations from Inc., the MindEd Trust and private individuals.

What they said: pupil quotes:

To me mental health is understanding my own feelings, being healthy in my mind and physically healthy. (Student, Y8)

It is really important to talk to other people. If you don’t let your emotions out it will just get worse. Sometimes it is easier to talk to parents than a teacher or you can talk to people that you trust. You can also talk to your siblings. You don’t have a deeply personal connection with your teachers like you have with your friends, so it is easier to talk to friends. (Student, Y9)

I used to break mirrors or punch walls when I was upset and stressed. Now I try to take time out and remove myself from stressful situations so that I can think about how to deal with it. (Student, Y8).

You can talk to your friends and family on social media. The disadvantages are that you can get stalked. People can create fake accounts. You can get cyber-bullied. People can hack into other people’s accounts and you might not know who is communicating with you. People can become jealous of other people’s lives and this can make you sad and depressed. (Student Y9)

Some of the pictures (on social media) can be fake so people can make out that they are leading an exciting life but really they are not and this can make others feel worthless. (Student Y8)

I realise that social media has an impact on my sleep. I find it addictive and I am always checking what friends are doing through social media and texting. (Student Y9)

What they said: teacher quotes:

Students now understand that the majority of people experience mental health issues at some point in their lives. They know they are not the only one to feel like this. (Teacher, School 1)

The students don’t fall to pieces anymore when they get a low grade. They pick themselves up, dust themselves down and do better next time. (Teacher, School 2)

To see the full report please click here.

NCS Summer 2018

We had 55 young people complete our National Citizen Service (NCS) programme this summer. The NCS brings together 16- to 17-year olds from different backgrounds in a programme of challenge, learning, and discover and this year was no exception!

The programme is split into three phases and a graduation evening!

More photos can be found here

Phase 1: Adventure

The adventure phase took place in Shropshire (1st group) and Norfolk (2nd group). The young people took part in Gorge Scrambling, Canoeing, Rock Climbing, Abseiling and much more: all with a focus on teamwork and games.

This phase is about building friendships with those that they may not have across before. Loads of photos of the activities can be seen here.

Phase 2: Skills

The young people then stayed at Anglia Ruskin University where they gain new skills such as independence and confidence.

Young people were allocated into teams and given a budget where they buy and cook their own food. They have to budget 5 days’ worth of food and learn how to cook as a group. During the day, we also held workshops to help build the skills of the young people. These included:

  • Debating
  • Budgeting (Barclays)
  • Cartoon Drawing
  • Self-Defence & so much more...!

We were also very lucky within this stage to receive a visit from Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge.

Phase 3: Social Action Projects

The third phase is at the heart of the NCS: the young people design and deliver a social action project.

Split into 4 groups over the 2 ‘waves’ the groups raised between them over £1500 principally for 2 charities, CHECT (Childhood Eye Cancer Trust) and MAGPAS (Mid Anglia General Practitioner Accident Service) Air Ambulance!

For the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust: the group did a blind-folded walk around Cambridge and having learnt a lot through this experience, went on to successfully liaise with local businesses verbally and in writing, collecting prizes for a raffle. The raffle took place at an awareness and fundraising Fun Day including information, activities and stalls. They also cycled over 1000 miles as a group to raise money for the cause!

Our next group raised money for MAGPAS Air Ambulance. They did this through their “Swim to Fly” and “Sing to Fly” campaigns. This involved the group raising money through a sponsored swim! They then went about organising a concert held at Cambridge United Football Club. It was a fantastic afternoon involving 4 artists, a raffle and lots of fun had!

Our groups also supported Jimmy’s Night Shelter by creating shoeboxes for the homeless there – they raised the money for this by taking part in a sponsored triathlon taking place at Abbey Leisure Centre. Part of this group also created a fantastic painting for the kids at East Anglia Children’s Hospital (EACH).

Our final group took the topic of litter in our environment and organised regular litter picks (complete with an eye-catching collection/social media super-hero). The group then establish a connection with St Paul’s Church, who hosted a mural they created using the litter they had collected throughout the weeks. This was part of their #CambYouNot (Litter) campaign.

Daniel Zeichner visits NCS Group at Debate Workshop

We were delighted to have the MP for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, speak to our NCS Group as he visited a debating workshop hosted by the Cambridge Union. Having listened to a keenly contested debate on the gender pay gap, Mr Zeichner gave our participants a short talk on the current state of democracy and the importance of constructive debate in modern society. We are grateful to Daniel and the Mayor of Cambridge, who was also in attendance, for coming to visit our NCS Group in action!

The debating workshop kicked off earlier in the morning with a tour of the impressive and historic buildings given by the president of the Cambridge Union, Charles Connor. Charles then gave the young people some initial tips on public speaking, who then put this advice into practice as they took part in a game of ‘Just a Minute’, being required to speak continuously for a minute about a given topic.

Following this the young people discussed which issues are most pressing for young people currently. Topics such as Brexit, the age of voting, social networking and immigration were suggested but the participants eventually chose to debate whether the government should take action on the gender pay gap & whether they should legalise weed. The two debates were held in the Chamber of the Cambridge Union, a room which has hosted the likes of the Dalai Lama, Ronald Raegan, Winston Churchill & now the Cambridge United Community Trust NCS Group!

We would like to thank the Cambridge Union, and in particular the president Charles Connor, for holding the event. The young people engaged in the key ideas of constructive debate and developed not only their public speaking skills but also their ability to develop and defend arguments on key issues in society.

Sun Football Video: The power of Amputee Football!

We'd love you to check out a video made by The Sun Football on one of our Amputee Football participants, Kiera, and the effect the sessions have on her.

Amputee Football Match-day Takeover!

Cambridge United Community Trust were delighted to host our amputee football team for a short demonstration of their skills on the pitch at the home game vs Exeter City FC on the 21st August!

Before the match, our amputees also had the opportunity to meet the first-team players in the dressing room and 2 of our younger amputees were matchday mascots, walking out with the teams onto the pitch. The amputees’ families are a crucial part of the football sessions we run and so we were delighted to be able to have some of the amputees’ sons, daughters & siblings along to be mascots too.

Our sessions are run in partnership with Cambridgeshire FA and Steel Bones, a charity who a working to connect the amputee community. They offer support to new amputees, and their families - providing the guidance and companionship that they so often need, at an incredibly traumatic time. We were delighted to invite them along to hold a bucket collection. The money raised from this will be used to provide families with an opportunity to go horse-riding.

Alongside the demonstration game, one of the amputees Marc Pitman was also recognised as Community Hero of the Day. Marc was part of a group of amputees to ascend Mount Snowdon raising an incredible £12,000 for Steel Bones. Marc said about the climb: “I have never allowed my 'disability' to define me as a person and I saw Mount Snowdon as yet another challenge. It was life changing for all involved!”

Special mention must go to Paul Clark, the ‘Team Snowdon Leader’ who unfortunately couldn’t be here for the match-day takeover, but who led the team fantastically. He said: “this adventure was about getting a group of amputees together to show we are no different to other people and we can achieve anything we set our minds to.”

From their amputee football sessions launch in February 2018: they've grown to create an inclusive, welcoming community where amputees and their families can play football together in sessions led by Cambridge United Community Trust’s Disability Sports Officer Phil Mullen.

Funded by Cambridgeshire FA, the aim of the sessions is to provide all amputees, people with congenital limb deficiencies and persons with restricted use of limbs, with the opportunity to play football. The sessions are open to people of all age groups and abilities.

Leigh Joy-Staines, one of the founders of Steel Bones, says “Steel Bones UK is all about getting amputees back into community life, and these football sessions help to do just that!”

For more information on the sessions’ dates & timing please visit:

For more information about our wonderful partner charity, Steel Bones, please visit: