*John’s been a football fan all his life. Whilst the matches come with their highs and lows, the friendships he’s made through the sport have helped to strengthen his love for football even more. He might not play the game as much these days, but John’s proud of his role as a Volunteer Co-ordinator for Croydon Eagles men’s mental health football team, which brings local men together to play football and reduce the stigma attached to mental health.
Run by local charity Hear Us, the charity supports adults with mental health challenges to access financial, health and social inclusion support. With support from the Grace Dear Trust, the football team meet each Wednesday and compete in the local league where sessions are free for anyone 18 of any footballing ability.
You don’t have to be a pro to play! It’s about being part of a group and wanting to improve physical and mental health whilst we support each other.”John, Croydon Eagles Volunteer Project Coordinator
As Croydon’s only service user run group for people who experience mental illness, Hear Us is 100% service user run, which works to make sure service users are involved in the planning, delivery and monitoring of mental health services in Croydon.
Facilitated by people with lived experience of mental health issues, volunteers and Link Workers, Croydon Eagles works to provide a space where people can be themselves. There’s no pressure to talk about mental health, but the team have created a trusted environment to share personal challenges.
John’s previous struggles with his own mental health has put him in a unique position to understand some of the challenges faced by team members and an ability to lend an understanding ear.
Using football to improve health and being a part of a team of people enjoying the game has created a safe space for men who may be hesitant to engage with traditional pathways to mental health support. Whilst team members talk about the weekend football fixtures, there’s also opportunity for signposting to local mental health services along with feeling the natural boost from friendships that have been created.
As a Link worker supporting the team, Tim is on hand at sessions to listen, support and signpost team members in the right direction to get help should they need it. However, just being available to talk can make the world of difference to people.
“I’ve seen many people who struggle with their mental health find relief from playing the game and being part of the team. There’s no pressure to talk about mental health, but we’ve created a space for people to be themselves and make friends.”Tim Matthias, Social Prescribing Link Worker
After a long hospital stay, Lee* gained some weight and was feeling isolated at home. Following a recommendation from his Link Worker, he joined the Croydon Eagles to improve his fitness and support his recovery. He was initially hesitant to try something new, but he’s now become a key member of the team and volunteers as an ambassador to recruit new people to the team.
The team spirit nurtured over the years has given people something to forward to each week and whilst the professional football season will be pausing for summer soon, Croydon Eagles will continue to soar throughout the summer and beyond.
Would you like to join Croydon Eagles Football team?
*Names changed to maintain confidentiality