RL Cares helping build a better approach to mental health

RL Cares helping build a better approach to mental health

Rugby League Cares’s expertise in delivering successful mental health initiatives was recognised when the charity took part in a recent round-table event featuring a panel of geotechnical engineers, industry body representatives and mental health advocates.

The event was hosted by Ground Engineering magazine and set out to discuss how the needs of employees in the industry sector can be better supported.

It also considered the impact of mental health issues on the wider construction industry and examined gaps in support for those needing help.

The panel members also discussed their personal reasons for advocating better mental health support and the actions business leaders should take to improve mental wellbeing among employees.

RL Cares was represented by our Health Project Manager Wendy Barr, who helps lead the charity’s mental fitness initiative Offload, which recently received funding from Movember to enable it to be delivered to men working in the construction industry.

“We’ve run the Offload programme with some construction companies already and the feedback was fantastic,” said Wendy. “There’s still a big hill to climb in tackling mental health in the construction industry and if we can play a small part in it, then that’s great.”

The round table discussion featured contributions from many areas of the engineering and construction industry, including Paul McCann of Dunelm Geotechnical & Environmental UK and overseas operations director and British Drilling Association chair.

McMann agreed that the industry has increased its awareness of mental health issues.

But he believes it still has a long way to go to provide meaningful mental health support to staff. Often, he says, the only type of permanent support offered to employees on construction sites is a phone number pinned to a noticeboard or handed out in a leaflet.

“That would be one of the last things that I would feel that I could do – to pick up that phone on a site and identify myself,” he reflected.

Mott MacDonald technical director of engineering geology, Jim Gelder has suffered from depression for a number of years. He said that real support was about “finding opportunities to engage with people.”

Gelder suggested one way of opening a conversation about mental health with employees could be to include questions that invite employees to share their feelings during a short presentation to the workforce. This could take place during the morning toolbox talk.

“If you think about how safety has come on in the last 30 years, the toolbox talk is integral to that because it’s your chance as management to really push the messages that you want to push through to the workforce.

“So, you could just have one line in the toolbox talk that says, how’s the weather in your head today?”

Concept Engineering Consultants business development and process manager Dave Cage, who has also struggled with poor mental health, noted that tools such as toolbox talks, phone numbers and mental health first aiders are important.

However, he said that “the only thing that turns those from being just a tick box exercise that some companies do to something meaningful is changing the culture”.

“It’s a much bigger challenge to actually improve the culture of a company rather than to just put the tools in place.

“And that’s where we need to be investing most of our time,” he added.

To read more about the conversations on mental health in construction and drilling at the Ground Engineering round table event click here

If you are involved in a construction company and would like to know more about how Offload can help your colleagues benefit become and stay mentally fit, please contact our Partnerships Manager Nav Uppal – nav.uppal@rlcares.org.uk

How RL Cares is promoting good mental health in Parliament

The President of the Rugby Football League, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has revealed that the work of Rugby League Cares has inspired him to put in place a mental fitness and health programme for MPs and staff working in Westminster.

In a fascinating interview on the BBC 5 Live rugby league podcast, Sir Lindsay, the Speaker of the House of Commons, talks about the work of RL Cares and the role the charity plays in safeguarding the mental wellbeing of the sport’s players.

Speaking to BBC rugby league correspondent Dave Woods, Sir Lindsay, the MP for Chorley and a lifelong Warrington fan, outlines why he is so passionate about the sport and its communities.

“Rugby league is a family, a family which cares about itself and that’s the way it should be,” said Sir Lindsay.

“It’s about the health and wellbeing of people involved in the game. The players are tough, hard people but mental health affects every level of society and I’ve got to say that Rugby League (Cares) recognised that early.

“They have put support in place and they’ve been there to help players who’ve needed it.

“There’s a lot of pressure put on people playing the game, both professionally and at amateur level, and I’ve got to say that’s why rugby league is good.

“It’s the coming together of the family, the setting up of the charity (RL Cares), having a support network in there and training people who can look for the signs of mental health and having a champion within each club as well.

“We have the same (issues) in Parliament with mental health and that’s why I have beefed up and put together a health and wellbeing package, not only with (physical) illness but with mental health.

“Politicians don’t want to talk about mental health, they don’t ask for help and support, and it’s the same with staff as well.

“I had seen what rugby league had done, I’d seen Rugby League Cares and I wanted to make sure Parliament cares in the same way for the people who work in this village.”

To listen to the full BBC 5 Live podcast, click here

How RL Cares helps players construct a new life after injury

How RL Cares helps players construct a new life after injury

It requires special qualities to become a professional Rugby League player: dedication, commitment, application and natural ability are all common traits of the heroes who thrill crowds and TV viewers week in, week out.

So, too, is luck, especially when it comes to avoiding those cruel bi-products that are an inevitable feature of a tough, uncompromising physical sport like Rugby League: injuries.

Years of hard work can be undone in an instant by one awkward tackle, but more often it is a series of events that lead to lifelong dreams being dashed.

Just ask Mason Tonks.

A glittering career seemingly lay ahead for the Smawthorne Panthers junior when, at 16, he signed a professional contract with Leeds Rhinos. Yet, within six years and a career that took him around the world, Mason was forced to rethink his future after a succession of injuries ended his playing days.

After leaving Leeds to join New Zealand Warriors, Mason returned to the UK and had spells with Featherstone and Bradford before signing for Doncaster. A serious knee injury sidelined him for almost a year and though he made a full recovery, two spells of concussion undermined his comeback before a broken leg forced a major re-think at the age of just 22.

“I couldn’t run because of the pain, both in my leg and in my back, and I seemed to be spending every Saturday in A&E,” said Mason. “I knew I couldn’t carry on playing, it wasn’t worth sacrificing my body anymore.

“Retiring was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Playing Rugby League was all I had ever wanted to do. Where could I turn?”

The answer was Rugby League Cares, and specifically the charity’s Career Coach Julie Measures, who has had a huge influence in helping Mason turn his life around and open up a bright future away from sport.

“Mason was really low in confidence when we first met, he didn’t know what he wanted to do because like a lot of players his age, ‘life after rugby’ seemed such a long way away,” said Julie.

“Mason had been doing some part-time work with his dad in the construction industry so we sat down and worked out what his options were and it all went from there.”

With Julie’s help, Mason secured an apprenticeship with Cidon Construction to become a formwork joiner in their reinforced concrete division but within a few months recurring back pain prompted another re-evaluation.

“I’d got decent grades from school and Cidon were brilliant with me: they said why don’t you study to become an engineer,” said Mason.

“I was hesitant at first but after speaking to Julie I said yes and now I have a career I want to progress in.

“I’ve got a HNC and have been working for the last three years a site engineer. I love it.”

Mason left Cidon last October to join Caddick Construction, the company founded by Leeds Rhinos chairman Paul Caddick: in a strange way, his journey had come full circle.

“I’d put a post on LinkedIn about what I was up to and someone I knew through rugby from my junior days got in touch to say that Caddick Construction were always on the lookout for good engineers,” said Mason.

“That was a good lesson: it’s always worth making the most of your contacts and network to find opportunities.

“I have a lot of people to be grateful to for getting me to where I am now, including Cidon and Caddick Construction, but without the support of Julie and RL Cares I wouldn’t be in this position.

“There’s not a day goes by when I don’t miss being a Rugby League player but I love my new career and I’ll always be thankful to Julie and RL Cares for helping me get here.”

Rugby League Cares rallies round to tackle Coronavirus

Rugby League Cares rallies round to tackle Coronavirus

Rugby League Cares is working hard through the Coronavirus pandemic to safeguard the welfare of some of the sport’s most vulnerable heroes.

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.”


Statement from the family of Natalie Harrowell

Statement from the family of Natalie Harrowell

Natalie’s family have confirmed that her funeral will take place on Friday January 10, 2020, at Chanterlands Avenue Crematorium, Hull, at 2.30pm.

This will be followed by a wake at Lazaat Hotel, Woodhill Way, Cottingham.

Those attending may wear whatever dress code they feel appropriate to celebrate Natalie’s life. There will be a collection for the Rugby League Benevolent Fund.

We are still awaiting the final pathologist’s report on the cause of Natalie’s death. Her family were aware that Natalie was two months pregnant.

The support for Natalie and her family has been unbelievable and we are very appreciative to all those concerned. With Christmas approaching, we would repeat our request for privacy through this most difficult of periods.

Thank you.

Men in St Helens get set to Offload in 2020

Men in St Helens get set to Offload in 2020

Offload is coming to St Helens!

The hugely successful men’s mental fitness programme run by Rugby League Cares will kick-off at the home of the Betfred Super League champions in the New Year.

Offload is a health initiative designed by RL Cares with input from State of Mind and is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It helps men tackle issues such as depression and anxiety and develop coping strategies to successfully manage the crises we all face in everyday life.

Staged over 10 weekly ‘fixtures’, Offload is presented by former Rugby League players and officials who share their experiences of dealing with pressure, health problems and challenging situations.

Offload fixtures at St Helens will also feature input from OK TO ASK, a campaign which aims to break down the stigma of talking about suicide.

St Helens has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK – 75 people in the borough have taken their own lives in the last three years – and OK TO ASK focuses on the life-saving conversations anyone could have with someone thinking of suicide.

Liam Parker, Health Projects Manager at RL Cares, said: “Offload has a proven track-record of both changing and saving lives and we are delighted to have opportunity to deliver our programme to the people of St Helens.

“Over 1,000 men across the North West have already attended Offload fixtures and we know from the feedback they have given us what a positive difference it makes to the quality of not only their lives, but the lives of their families and the people around them.

“Working in partnership with Saints Community Development Foundation, St Helens Borough Council and the OK TO ASK campaign will enable us to continue that good work and empower more men to be able to cope, and talk comfortably, about important health issues.”

Chris Chamberlain, Project and Finance Manager at Saints Foundation, said: “After extensive consultation and understanding the local needs from across St Helens, it became evident that Offload would be great to support people within St Helens.

“Saints Foundation has been working hard behind the scenes with partners at the local authority and Rugby League Cares to bring Offload to St Helens. This is an extremely positive project which has worked well in other local areas and we are pleased to bring Offload to St Helens.”

Offload has already acquired national recognition for the successful way it has engaged men in what is traditionally a taboo health subject since it was launched in 2017.

Since then, Offload has made a positive impact on the lives of the men who have attended fixtures run at Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.

Earlier this month, Offload was nominated for a prestigious ‘Sport for Social Change Award’ at the 2019 British Journalist Sport Awards: the programme was also highly rated in an independent evaluation conducted by health experts at Edge Hill University.

That report found that men who have completed a set of Offload fixtures:

  • Have a better understanding of how to look after their mental and physical fitness;
  • Have more positive and effective strategies to cope in tough times;
  • Are more resilient and more able to handle setbacks;
  • Have a stronger and bigger support network;
  • Have better relationships at home;
  • Have increased aspirations about being in work and/or training;
  • Have started volunteering more.

Offload fixtures at St Helens are aimed at men aged 16 and over, are free to attend and will take place at the Totally Wicked Stadium with dates and times in early 2020 to be confirmed.

For more information on Offload at St Helens, or to sign up to the programme, please contact Saints Community Development Foundation at offload@saintsrlfc.com.

RL Cares secures Offload funding for two more years

RL Cares secures Offload funding for two more years

Rugby League Cares is delighted to announce it has secured funding to deliver the charity’s successful men’s health and wellbeing project, Offload for a further two years.

Offload has already transformed the lives of over 1,000 men in the North West of England since its launch in April 2017 and the new funding from the National Lottery Community Fund will build on those achievements.

Delivered at three professional Rugby League clubs, Warrington Wolves, Salford Red Devils and Widnes Vikings, Offload involves men learning the techniques that Rugby League clubs use to manage the mental and physical fitness of players.

Staged over 10 weeks, Offload ‘fixtures’ are delivered by former players and officials and allow men to build their own mental fitness, develop coping strategies to challenge difficult situations and learn how to recognise when people close to them might need their support.

Chris Rostron, the Head of RL Cares, said: “This is terrific news, both for the charity and for men across the North West who now have the opportunity to engage with our hugely successful Offload programme.

“Some of the feedback we have received from many of the men involved in Offload over the last two years has been little short of remarkable: Offload is not only changing lives for the better, it’s saving them as well.

“Good mental health is really important for all of us but for men, in particular, it can be difficult to seek help or advice when things go wrong.

“Offload breaks down those barriers and empowers participants to take care of their own mental wellbeing and empowers them with the tools they need to reach out to others.

“I would like to thank the three club foundations for the commitment they have shown to making Offload such an overwhelming success.”

An independent evaluation of Offload has been conducted by researchers at Edge Hill University and reveals that participation brought about increased confidence and self-esteem, improved social and emotional connections, reduced substance abuse, an increase in physical activity and enhanced working and personal relationships.

The evaluation also revealed that after taking part in Offload:

* 78 per cent of men are more aware of how to look after their health and wellbeing;

* 63 per cent are keen to make a change to improve their education, training or employment;

* 74 per cent are more able to cope with everyday lie;

* 66 per cent have a better relationship with their family

* 73 per cent feel more able to manage setbacks and challenging situations.

The Edge Hill research team was led by Professor Andy Smith, who said: “We were delighted to undertake research which will positively impact on the mental health of men from some of the most disadvantaged communities in North West England.

“We worked with the clubs and delivery staff from State of Mind Sport to design ways of effectively engaging men taking part in Offload, and to allow them to develop positive ways of coping with the mental health challenges they experience.

“How many men revealed to us that the programme has literally saved their life is quite humbling and is testimony to the hard work of everyone involved.”

One participant said: “I can honestly say Offload saved my life. That night that I went to Offload for the very first time, I was planning to do it [attempt to take my own life] again, so I can’t sing its praises enough to be honest. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Another Offload squad member said: “I used to just turn to drugs and alcohol. That’s what I used to do every weekend, most nights, but now I don’t. Every time I feel down, I do something else that keeps me going, like exercise.”

Developed and delivered with the help of State of Mind and other agencies, Offload fixtures are free to attend and open to all men aged 18 and over.

For more information on Offload at Warrington, Salford and Widnes please click here