A walking football session in Swinton created as part of the Active Dearne project, has been named the Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA Grassroots Project of the Year.
Established by Active Dearne Community Champion, Adam Kent, and Ian Whitehouse from SJD Sports Coaching, beat off competition from more than 300 nominated projects in a public vote.
Weekly sessions began in October 2019 as a way of reducing isolation in an area of the country which has high suicide levels of men aged 25-55. They were funded through the Active Dearne project, and initially just attracted a handful of men from the area.
Less than two years later, there are now two weekly sessions, sustained by around 50 participants a week paying towards facility hire at Dearne Valley College. As well as being led by Adam, who has attended a Mental Health Awareness training course, there are links to the local Mind over Matter charity, to direct those who take part to more support with their mental health should they require it.
It has had a wider influence on walking football provision across the borough, with learning from the group helping to setup additional new sessions in other parts of South Yorkshire.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to socialise and enjoy football in a friendly group,” said Adam.
“Mental health came out as one of the main outcomes we wanted to address through the Active Dearne project, and this is an example of project that is having a positive impact on that.
“It’s mind blowing. To turn up and know there’s going to be 25 people there whatever the weather, is fantastic. It sounds corny, but we’re like a family. If someone is having a tough time, we’re all there to pick them back up.
“The people who are coming to this session are unlikely to go and ask for help if they were struggling with mental health,” added Ian.
“But when they come to the session they are happy, and they talk to each other. There are WhatsApp groups setup, and it provides a support network. Seeing the session grow and develop makes everything worthwhile. To come from starting with just six people, to opening up more sessions across the borough, is brilliant.”
Paul Cummins, Community Development Manager for the Active Dearne project, said: “The development of Adam and Ian, in terms of setting up a programme, watching it grow and adapting to the impact of the pandemic, makes me immensely proud.
“It’s fantastic recognition for what they have done, but I know both of them feel like they’re still just getting started. I’d like to thank them both for all their hard work.”
We will be telling the stories of some of the men who take part in the coming weeks on the Yorkshire Sport Foundation website.