Sussex Cricket have become the first professional sports club in the World to launch their own mental health and wellbeing platform for the community. Chief Executive Officer, Rob Andrew, explains how the free, online resource is designed to help anyone that needs hope and support through the power of shared experiences.
The coronavirus pandemic has left the world reeling from its impact and just one of those areas is the effect it has had on an already existential crisis facing all four corners of the globe.
In England, the stats paint a grim picture of mental health amongst its population, with one in four people experiencing a mental health problem of some kind each year. In the past 12 months, strict measures to fight the battle against COVID-19 have included lockdowns and isolations away from the outside world, which in turn is expected to have had a knock-on effect on mental health.
However, in these difficult times, sport has offered a relief to many and going that extra step has been Sussex CCC, who have announced their Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub, becoming the first sports club in the world to do so.
“It is a free, online resource designed to help users find hope and support through the power of shared, lived experiences,” started Rob Andrew, CEO of Sussex CCC.
“At the heart of the mobile-optimised platform is the ‘Champions Cinema’, an ever-growing collection of thousands of videos of 60 seconds or less where people from the Sussex Cricket community and beyond share their experiences that can help with our mental health and wellbeing.
“Contributors include Sussex Cricket players and staff – including Sarah Taylor, who helped launch the platform, club cricketers, experts from Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as well as individuals from a whole host of backgrounds and life experiences. The Sussex Cricket Mental Health & Wellbeing Hub is completely free to use by anybody with an internet connection and requires no registration, ensuring complete anonymity for users.”
In the face of an expected rise in mental health problems amongst the community, Andrew explained the purpose for forming the Hub and the reach he hoped it would have.
“The club wanted to use its standing and reach in the community to make a difference during and beyond the pandemic. We are so well supported by our community and we wanted to offer support back at such a challenging time for everyone.
“People’s mental health and wellbeing was identified by a working group, chaired by Sussex Cricket president, Sir Rod Aldridge, as likely to be an area hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and one where the club could help with an innovative platform that could be accessed by our extensive network of over 3,500 members, 182 affiliated cricket clubs, tens of thousands of supporters who attend matches each year, thousands more people encountered through community programmes and corporate partnerships, over 400,000 followers on social media and more than 850,000 unique website visitors each year.”
Having been the first sports club in the world to create a Hub in this way, Sussex had to work on this innovative idea and ensure that it was effective in its purpose without being able to see how others had successfully managed to do so.
“You never know if something is going to work, but we felt we had a duty to offer support to our community at a difficult time. We are very aware of the role we play as a club in so many people’s lives and so we felt that we would be in a strong position to provide support in this way,” Rob continued.
“Listening to people – often people you can relate to through a love of cricket – talk about their own experiences, plays such a big part in demystifying mental health and removing any taboo around the subject or worry that you’re alone in experiencing these issues. That is at the centre of the hub and is what makes it such an effective and powerful tool.
“Visitor numbers to the hub have been really encouraging. In fact, the page has been the second most visited news page since the start of the year. It highlights how important something like this is right now, but also that people are seeing it as a useful tool.
“As I mentioned before, people who are using the site are then wanting to contribute themselves, which is as positive feedback as it is possible to get, I believe. The response from people on social media – not just from our community but from far beyond as well – has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are pleased to see a club like ours using its position in the community to try and help people at an incredibly difficult time. That in itself widens the discussion of mental health and wellbeing beyond the hub, which hopefully shows it is playing a useful role.”
Sussex CCC weren’t alone in forming the Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub. The club called upon the Sussex Partner NHS Foundation Trust to offer further clarity on the issue that they were looking to aid.
“Having the NHS on board added a huge amount of credibility to the hub,” Rob explained. “Two of their experts, Dr Emma Smith and Liz Holland were also part of our media launch and conveyed with great clarity and authority exactly how the hub could help people.
“It was a great example of how a professional sports club and a local NHS trust can co-operate and work together in conveying a really powerful message to the community they both serve in a way they couldn’t perhaps do on their own.
“It was just fantastic, at a time when they were under so much pressure, that the leadership and communications teams at Sussex Partnership NHS Trust saw the long-term value in supporting a project like this. It was a great credit to the people involved in working for our NHS and the way they think and operate.”
Having only launched in January, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub is still only in its infancy and Rob was keen to explain that it will be sure to grow and continue to expand its reach amongst the cricket community and beyond.
“It’s a constantly evolving platform and videos and links to resources will be being added all the time. Something we’re seeing happen and hope will gather momentum is that people using the hub to get help or support are then asking to contribute their own experiences to help others, which is fantastic.
“Of course, the more people using the hub seeing people they can identify with, the better it is as a resource. The better it is as a tool to help people; the more people will want to contribute. In this way, the hub is continually growing and improving.”
Perhaps an overlooked development in sport throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been the mental health impact on its athletes. Looking specifically towards cricket, where many players have been forced into isolation ‘bubbles’ and have faced lengthy spells away from home as the calendar kickstarted again last year, many players have cited struggling with their own mental health, further conveying the importance of Sussex’s new hub.
“A number of players were really keen to record videos for the hub, so I think they see how it can help. County cricketers haven’t had the same level of isolation that international cricketers have had – although those playing in overseas T20 tournaments have spent plenty of time on their own in hotel quarantine – but they’re as susceptible to mental health issues as we all are.
“Now more than ever, we’ve got to pay particular attention to the emotional wellbeing of our players and staff. It has been a rough ride for the whole of society, with the tragic loss of life, isolation, furlough, economic uncertainty and uncertainty in general, so as a club we have a duty of care to our people and our wider community. I think the hub is one way in which we’re showing we take this duty seriously.”
Sussex CCC’s innovation will be sure to have inspired teams from within cricket and the wider sporting landscape, as they continue to search for ways in which they can help and support their community now, as the country continues to suffer from the repercussions of the pandemic and beyond.
“It has definitely caught people’s attention and it has been mentioned to me by other counties and organisations as a really positive and helpful thing for a professional sports club to be doing,” said Rob.
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing more clubs do similar things to help with supporters’ wellbeing.
“Sports clubs play such a big role in so many people’s lives, therefore they have the ability to reach and positively impact people’s lives in a way very few other organisations do.”
“I think it is widely recognised that physical wellbeing can help your mental health. Taking part in physical exercise is a very important part of everyday life, and if this is as part of a sport, then so much the better. Sport not only provides the essential physical exercise but also a support network provided by colleagues.”
The Sussex Mental Health and Wellbeing Hub is open to everyone, not just those involved with the club and its local community. If you would like to access the material, anonymously contribute or see the fantastic work that the club is doing to help those in need during these difficult times.
This article was first featured in Issue 15 of On The Front Foot Magazine
Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place from 10 to 16 May and we have spoken to a number of professionals across the sports industry about their mental wellbeing. To find out more about the services Premier Sports Network and our charity partner Beder provide to help promote positive mental health across the world of sport, please email email@example.com