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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.’’
From next month, RL Cares and the Hull FC Community Foundation will work together on a pilot project that will deliver six free Offload ‘fixtures’ at the club’s Community Hub at the MKM Stadium to men aged 16 and over.
Hull FC Foundation will be running Offload fixtures on six consecutive Thursday evenings from October on a range of important themes, including stress and coping, building a positive mindset, analysing negative thinking and building resilience.
The hour-long fixtures will be led by RL Cares’ mental health ambassadors, who are all ex-professional players who are trained to use their own life experiences to help participants.
Offload squad members can participate as often or as little as they feel comfortable with. The fixtures are delivered in a ‘no-pressure’ situation and all information shared at fixtures is treated in strictest confidence within each squad.
James Price, Head of the Hull FC Community Foundation, said: “It is a real privilege to have the opportunity to collaborate with Offload, who can hopefully make a difference to Hull FC fans who may be struggling or unsure about their mental wellbeing.
“It goes without saying that the last year and a half has been challenging for us in more ways than one, so it is fantastic that we can partner up with Offload to help local men deal with some of the issues they may be facing.
“A whole host of clubs are already involved with Offload, so it is pleasing that Hull FC can get on board with the fantastic project.”
More than 4,000 men have already taken part in Offload to learn the tools and techniques needed to enjoy good mental wellbeing. Offload is already being delivered at nine professional Rugby League clubs; Bradford Bulls, Featherstone Rovers, Halifax Panthers, Huddersfield Giants, Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.
RL Cares Head of Community Emma Goldsmith said: “We are thrilled to be able to deliver Offload fixtures at Hull FC and are looking forward to making the same positive difference to the lives of Hull FC fans as we have seen at the other clubs.
“Offload has a fantastic ability to not just change lives, but to save lives as well. I’m sure all the men who sign up to Offload at Hull will enjoy taking part.
“We know that lots of men in Rugby League communities are struggling in these very challenging times and Offload can help equip them with the techniques and skills needed to develop and maintain good mental wellbeing.”
To sign up for Offload at Hull FC, or for more information, please email Hull FC legend and RL Cares Offload ambassador Lee Crooks, email@example.com
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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