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Advantage Mentoring partners with football clubs to boost young people’s mental health

Advantage Mentoring have partnered with professional football clubs’ community organisations (CCOs) and the NHS to engage 14-21-year-olds in mental health support to prevent their lives heading down the wrong path. 

The programme is delivered by staff from the CCOs at West Ham United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Crystal Palace and Leyton Orient. Mentors are typically from the local community and thus more trusted and relatable for young people. The staff’s tracksuit and club badge are powerful factors in engaging young people from the local area. Visiting club premises for sessions is also a big draw, although some prefer phone or online access for convenience.

Young people are referred to the programme from the NHS waiting list, other sessions run by the CCOs such as PL Kicks, or by schools, GPs and other agencies. They are assessed by a CAMHS clinician, have fallen below a threshold of serious concern and been placed on a waiting list. As those waiting lists can now last over a year, Advantage step in at the preventative stage to alleviate that pressure and address young people’s issues before they escalate.

Konrad Deckers Dowber, Managing Director of Advantage Mentoring explained: “Our programme is about helping young people re-engage, find a sense of connection, develop a positive outlook and re-ignite passions that may have lapsed, especially off the back of the pandemic.

“The direction we guide them in is led by the young person in front of us. For them, it’s a safe space where they’re not in school or at home.

“Let’s face it, their local football club is way cooler than a sterile NHS environment which young people may feel they can’t relate to, so we’ve used the power of the club badges and the specialist skillset of club staff to achieve positive change.”

Konrad says staff see young people from all manner of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Of the programme’s initial cohort of 27 participants in East London (who engaged with West Ham, Leyton Orient and Arsenal staff), 16 identified as Black, Asian or mixed race (69.6%) and 15 (65.2%) were male.

The programme’s impact is measured against four validated outcome measures:

· The Outcome Rating Scale (ORS)

· The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS)

· The WHO-5 Wellbeing Scale (WHO-5)

· Goal Based Outcomes (GBOs) which are embedded within the mentoring process

The eight young people who had participated for six months or more as of August 2021 all saw increased scores across these measures. These included better life functioning, reduction in perceived stress, better wellbeing and progress towards a primary goal.

In qualitative feedback, all young people described how their relationship with their mentor had an impact on their confidence and ability to express themselves and had made a change in their lives. It increased emotional wellbeing, improved relationships and developed life skills.

Many described how Advantage differed from other forms of support they had accessed in the past, such as school counselling, and said they found it easier to open up. One young person said he ‘liked having a mentor rather than a therapist’ because his mentor felt ‘more like a friend’.

Read the full August 2021 Advantage Mentoring impact report here 

Since that initial cohort in East London, the programme has expanded to the north west at Manchester City and each partner club now mentors a minimum of 20 young people per year. 

Advantage has commissioned the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families to conduct more comprehensive independent evaluation which will be published in September. 

“We are a joined-up partnership between ourselves, the NHS and the CCOs which is of immense value,” says Konrad. “Our programme never takes full credit for an individual taking a positive trajectory after the programme, but hopefully having the right agencies around that individual increases the chance they will develop and maintain a healthy mindset and lifestyle.”

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Pic credits: Gabriel Larmour