Now that Sporting Minds UK is a year old, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to look back at what’s been a strange year in which to start a charity, but one which has been incredibly busy, presented some unique challenges and, overall, seen us achieve so much which I’m immensely proud of.
We gained charitable status on the 26th November 2019 and (after two months of wrestling with opening a bank account and setting up a donation facility!) we became fully operational on the 20th January this year.
The most important thing we needed to achieve in our first year was actually providing support for athletes, and doing exactly what we had told the Charity Commission we were going to do. We didn’t have anything to go on in terms of how many young sportspeople would reach out for our support in our first year, and so we went into it pretty blind, just hoping we could get our message across.
The way Sporting Minds UK works means that ultimately, athletes need to firstly be aware of us and then, ask for the support. So, much of the first few months centred around getting our name and services out there, and letting as many young athletes as possible know that they could come to us for support. Thankfully, the media uptake to engage with us as an organisation was amazing. In January I went live onto Jim White’s TalkSport radio show to talk about what we can offer and just a few weeks later I did an interview with BBC News for the TV. A pretty cool experience as a uni fresher to say the least.
As coronavirus took hold in March, the crisis that sport was in was evident. We knew that we really could make a difference to young athletes facing uncertainties and struggles in reaction to the virus, but once again it was about getting our name out there so that they knew they had us as an option. So throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, ambassadors including Louis Rees-Zammit, Tom Abell, Elinor Barker and Alicia Scholes all did interviews with news publications such as the The Sunday Times, BBC Sport, ESPN and The Telegraph to get our services out there.
As the advertising of our services climaxed with a big push for ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ in May, we made a breakthrough with reaching the young athletes who needed us. By July we had provided support for 100 athletes, which was an incredible achievement. Fast forward to the end of November, and we’ve supported over 300 young athletes, who may not have received the benefits of specialist mental healthcare had Sporting Minds UK not been there for them.
Having this number of athletes receiving our support is undoubtedly bitter-sweet. On the one hand, a lot of them have seemed in a bad place, with very sobering stories to tell. And I think it has shocked myself, and everyone else working within the charity. I had an idea that the state of mental health in sport was not in a great place. However, the past year has taught me that athletes are extremely susceptible to mental health struggles, and that so much more needs to be done by ourselves and similar organisations in order to prevent, limit and help these struggles. On the other hand, it’s very reassuring to know that any representative young athlete in the UK has a place to go to for support and very humbling that we’ve been able to help so many.
So apart from having over 300 athletes go through our support system and the appreciated extensive media coverage, what else have we achieved? The first thing that comes to mind is the growing number of social media followers and supporters. As you can imagine, Covid-19 has not made fundraising easy. Many of the events we had planned for the year back in January haven’t come to fruition. Instead, we have relied upon some brilliant fundraising challenges and activities initiated by incredible individuals. To name just a few, Jasper Grace ran 50 miles in 50 hours, Archie Palmer rowed the length of the River Thames, Alice McWilliam rode for 24 hours around Richmond Park and Lesley Tischler did a car boot sale for us. And there have been many many more.
As well as the fundraisers, we managed to take advantage of everyones bug for an online quiz. Steve Saul of Route 39and Blackthorns Accountants managed to raise us over £3000 during 2020 from online quizzes alone. Jaz Khunkun of Wergs Consulting Ltd and Blackthorns also organised a very successful golf day for us. 108 people played in the day which was quite staggering given we’d only come out of lockdown a few months ago. Many thanks must go to Steve, Jaz and everyone at Blackthorns Accountants for all the amazing effort they’ve put into fundraising for us.
The generosity of our supporters has kept us going through our first year and made sure we can continue to focus on supporting athletes – a sincere thank you.
Social media has also been very important for us during our inaugural year. Being a charity for young people, I knew social media would be a vital tool to connect with the athletes we wanted to help. We’ve had a brilliant response, most notably with our Instagram page surpassing 30,000 followers, having our posts re-shared 10’s of thousands of times and reaching roughly 350,000 accounts per month. A highlight for me had to be the Instagram live that I did with Dame Kelly Holmes during ‘World Mental Health Week’. It was the first time I had ever interviewed someone and so for it to be with the double olympic champion was pretty surreal and definitely something I’ll always remember!
Social Media has also allowed us to work very effectively with our ambassadors who have been integral to the charity from the start. One of the first things I wanted to do with the charity is work with influential young athletes to champion the cause on our behalf. The idea being that a 16 year old academy athlete will hear a pro a few years older than them, encouraging them to treat mental health in sport seriously, and applying what they hear into their own lives and sporting routines. The ambassadors have been brilliant, they’ve engaged with us all the time, reposted our content and used their own platforms to endorse our services. We’re lucky to have such talented ambassadors as well. To name just a few individual highlights for our ambassadors: Elinor Barker won yet another European championship, Will Smeed smashed 82 in just his second game for Somerset and Louis Rees-Zammit tore up the Rugby Premiership for Gloucester and scored for Wales in his first start.
Overall, the first year of Sporting Minds UK has been a hugely successful one (if I may say so myself!!) and it’s hard to get across in an article how proud I am of everyone that works within the charity. When I sat down in a bar on holiday with my father in late 2018, discussing the idea for the very first time, I only really thought it would be a nice idea. Definitely not something that would actually exist. And then when Beverley Ashton and I sat in a cafe discussing brand, logos and websites, I thought it would take years to make the impact it already has. I’m incredibly privileged to be in a position to start a charity and definitely don’t take it for granted. I’m also incredibly lucky to have a small, but brilliantly dedicated team of associates, volunteers and trustees that make being the founder way easier than it comes across!! I can’t wait to see where 2021 takes Sporting Minds UK, and I know we’ll work as hard as we can to improve the state of mental health in sport and support the athletes that need it. Thanks a lot for all the support and taking the time to read my inaugural annual review blog 🙂