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The independent charity, Rugby League Cares is working alongside staff employed in three NHS trusts across the North West to share the tools and techniques professional athletes use to enjoy good mental fitness and build resilience.
‘Rugby League Cares for NHS’ aims to keep NHS staff happy, healthy, productive and engaged at work, and in their home lives, at a time when they have been under greater pressure than ever before.
Over the last 18 months, Covid-19 has placed an enormous strain on healthcare workers, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
This exciting new project is seeing RL Cares’s clinically-trained team of current and former Rugby League players support staff within the Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals, Bridgewater Community Healthcare and St Helens and Knowsley Foundation Trusts.
The players offer mental health and wellbeing support in both group and one-to-one situations, as well as providing physical health opportunities within the NHS work environment.
‘Rugby League Cares for NHS’ builds on the success of the charity’s hugely successful Offload programme, a celebrated men’s mental fitness initiative that has transformed the lives of thousands of people in Rugby League communities over the last four years.
Offload has been cited by academics at Edge Hill University as a global example of best practice for delivering mental health and sport programmes
‘Rugby League Cares for NHS’ is being managed by former England and Warrington prop Paul Wood and ex-Salford, Widnes and Castleford forward Lee Jewitt, who have joined the charity in full-time roles after being involved in Offload for the last few years.
Paul Wood said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to support our NHS heroes through these difficult times.
“RL Cares’s mental and physical health programmes have a brilliant track record in enhancing the lives of people in Rugby League communities and I have no doubt this brilliant new project will have a positive impact on NHS colleagues who face enormous challenges every day.”
Lee Jewitt said: “As Rugby League players, we’re acutely aware of the benefits of working together as a team and we’ll bring that knowledge, together with own personal experiences of coping with stress and pressure, to help the staff who get involved.
“We’ve been running a pilot project over the last few weeks and the feedback received so far from people working at all levels of the NHS has been fantastic.
“It is to the great credit of all three NHS trusts that they recognise both the need to support their colleagues and the many benefits our programme will bring.”
Michelle Cloney, Chief People Officer for Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals, said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected people in so many different ways, so we are really pleased to be working with RL Cares to enhance our existing staff health and wellbeing offer.
“The feedback from teams that Paul and Lee have been working in one-to-one and group sessions has been really encouraging and shows how appreciated their support and advice is at what continues to be a challenging time for NHS staff.”
Paula Woods, Director of People and Organisational Development at Bridgewater Community Healthcare, said: “As well as being well recognised for their outstanding contributions and accomplishments to the world of Rugby League and beyond, Lee and Paul will become familiar faces at Bridgewater.
“This is a really exciting partnership between RL Cares and the NHS.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected our work-life balance and working environments. It remains really tough out there for our NHS teams, so it’s important that we do all we can to help support our colleagues stay both mentally and physically fit and healthy.”
Adam Hodkinson, the Head of Operations, Health, Work and Wellbeing for St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘’This is an exciting opportunity to work in partnership with RL Cares, to enhance and provide a unique health and wellbeing offer of support to our people.
“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has, and will continue, to challenge us both physically and mentally, especially as we go into the winter period. We are looking forward to piloting this project and are very hopeful for its future success.’’
The charity is liaising with the clubs’ dedicated player welfare managers to ensure that players suffering financial, emotional or behavioural hardship have rapid access to expert advice and assistance to steer them through the ongoing health crisis.
RL Cares is also working alongside the club foundations and ex-players associations to reach out to former players who may be feeling isolated at this difficult time.
Government grants accessed by RL Cares will continue to be distributed to the club foundations over the weeks and months ahead to help ongoing projects in their local communities.
Aspects of the RL Cares health programmes, including Offload, are being taken online to reach more people at a time when social distancing regulations prevent group meetings.
To entertain fans missing their regular fix of Rugby League action, RL Cares will be streaming classic matches from the sport’s past on the charity’s Facebook page and Youtube channel.
Chris Rostron, the Head of RL Cares, said: “As an independent charity with responsibility for delivering player welfare to the professional and semi-professional game, RL Cares has the health and wellbeing of the playing community at the heart of its activities.
“Now, more than ever before, players past and present may need help and support and we want them to know we’re here for them.
“A number of Super League and Championship players have already accessed the expertise of Sporting Chance since the pandemic took hold and we will continue to keep that option open.
“Our partners, including All Sport Insurance and Barclays Banks, are all doing all they can to help players through the crisis, and we are grateful to them for their support.
“We would also like to thank the club foundations and player welfare managers for their dedication and the RFL and Super League for their continued support of our efforts.
“RL Cares aims to make a positive difference to the lives of people at every level of the sport and our small, committed team is working tirelessly to keep the Rugby League family together.”