Sport in Mind

Jan 31, 2023

Watching someone close to us struggling with their mental health, is something that sadly many of us can relate to. All too many of us are likely to feel pretty helpless when it happens – it can be a real struggle to know how best to support somebody that you care about.

Neil Harris found it hard to know how best to help his friend Jamie, whose mental health was declining rapidly. Neil knew from experience that activity always helped him, and he became convinced that it could support Jamie too. Whilst Jamie wasn’t particularly sporty, Neil knew that getting him moving could really make a difference.

He started taking Jamie for walks. What started out as just a one minute leg stretch outside the house soon increased and before they knew it, Neil and Jamie were walking significantly further and Jamie was starting to feel better. His self-esteem improved and he felt able to go back to work and to do some of the things that he’d done before he became unwell.

Neil became convinced that activity programme he had designed for his friend, could really support others suffering from poor mental health. In his spare time, he set up a very informal kickabout at his local park in Reading. At first only one person attended, but Neil persevered and before he knew it, he had 30 people attending these free, informal and non-competitive sessions.

Sport in Mind was born. And before Neil knew it, participants and the NHS were asking him to run badminton sessions. He got some rackets from a charity shop and established a session, which again quickly become popular. Soon more people were approaching him to set up different sessions, in different locations and Sport in Mind slowly begun to grow.

Live and Move recently caught up with Sport in Mind, who now run sessions right here in Exeter.

Laura Brooks is the charity’s head of South West services. She told us: “What started out as Neil helping his friend out, has grown into over 100 sessions each week. Our sessions are all run by qualified instructors, and volunteers with lived experience.

“The groups don’t talk about mental health specifically, although the support is there if people want to. The emphasis on Sport in Mind’s sessions is on getting out, moving and being part of a community activity. Most importantly, they’re free, they’re fun, there is no competition and you don’t need a referral. Our aim here is to remove all barriers that people might have to accessing physical movement.”

This sounds brilliant. Just the sort of thing that Live and Move loves! So where are these sessions?

WhatTable Tennis in Exeter (more information available on Sport in Mind’s Activity Map)

When: Every Friday 11:30am – 12:30pm

Where: Riverside Leisure Centre, Cowick St, Exeter EX4 1AF

WhatTai Chi  (more information available on Sport in Mind’s Activity Map)

When: Every Tuesday 12:00pm – 1:00pm (started)

Where: Mint Methodist Church (in the Epworth Room)

If you’d like to have a go, all you need to do is complete this form (ideally before attending the first session) – https://www.sportinmind.org/online-partcicpant-sign-up

Laura told us that, thanks to some Movember funding, they’ll soon be running more sessions in Exeter. Watch this space for further information.