The participants say ‘thanks for giving us a chance’
Newport County’s fledgling mental health programme is helping some of the most vulnerable people in the city - giving them an opportunity to build their lives through football.
The initiative, created in partnership with the FAW Trust and the Time to Change Wales charity, kicked off in July under the banner of the #WeWearTheSameShirt campaign, which aims to challenge mental health stigma through football.
Since Newport became the third club to join the programme, after Newtown and Merthyr, the 20 players who have been involved have benefited greatly and see the weekly sessions as one of the highlights of their week.
They celebrated the great start to the programme by inviting County first-team star Dan Butler and mascot Spytty the Dog along to a session at the PlayFootball Centre, in Bettws, and he delighted the players, many of whom are Exiles fans, by posing for selfies and passing on tips during and after the intense hour-long session played out in glorious sunshine.
Then back in the bar, the players, volunteers, guests and staff socialised together and discussed what made the project a success.
County’s Community Development Officer Norman Parselle is the energy behind the programme, which launched alongside a similar one in Wrexham.
He said: “We have had nine sessions so far and the interest is growing. We want to give the 20 participants who have joined up already the best possible chance to benefit from it.
“We get a variety of feedback from those taking part.
"Some just love a kickabout, some love to be part of Newport County AFC while others have just said thanks for not turning your back on me.
Usually the club welcome between 10 and 12 players for a weekly session but some of the players have enjoyed being involved so much that they’ve become matchday volunteers or help out with the club’s ladies team.
Mr Parselle, a seasoned coach who has nurtured Wales internationals like James Collins and Nathan Blake, admits helping somebody with mental health issues through the medium of football is very powerful emotionally.
He said: “When somebody with mental health issues comes up to me and says ‘thanks for giving me a chance’ that’s pretty powerful stuff.”
Click here for more information on how football can help people with mental health issues