A football initiative which is improving the mental health of people living in Wales is being expanded, thanks to a UEFA funding boost.
We Wear the Same Shirt – which is supported by Time to Change Wales – has been running since 2015 with clubs Wrexham, Newport and Newtown all providing football sessions for people living with mental health problems.
New clubs are now due to sign up to the life changing initiative, including Haverfordwest County AFC and Cambrian & Clydach Vale FC, with others to follow.
FAW Trust football development manager Rob Franklin said: “We know that physical activity improves mental health.
"That’s why We Wear the Same Shirt is so helpful for those in need of improving their wellbeing.
"But it’s not just about getting out and about and having some exercise, there is a huge sense of support and belonging at the sessions which help people feel less isolated and more confident.
In June 2017, almost 60 participants competed in a national tournament and were surveyed about the programme. 91% said they were more confident after getting involved with We Wear the Same Shirt, 100% felt physically healthier and 95% felt their mental health had improved.
Wrexham Inclusion Football Squad, one of the project's founder members, travelled to Everton FC to compete in the National Mental Health Football Tournament.
The team's general manager Wayne Greenshields said: “We offer people the opportunity to change their lives through football. Not everyone likes going to see a counsellor but can be persuaded to play football. We have seen so many people – men and women – turn their lives around.
“All of our 15 coaches came to us as players with mental health difficulties. One of our coaches hadn’t left his house for five years unless it was to visit his GP. He arrived at one of our sessions one day when he felt like he had hit rock bottom. Five years on, he is a highly qualified coach and travels the world playing and coaching football.”
Like the other clubs involved in We Wear the Same Shirt, Wayne has seen players rebuild their lives and going on to find employment and a new found confidence.
We Wear the Same Shirt began in 2015 and was supported by Sport Wales’ Call to Action funding which enabled the FAW Trust to work in collaboration with clubs and Time To Change Wales.
Karen Roberts, Programme Manager for Time to Change Wales said: "Time to Change Wales is delighted to work in partnership with the FAW Trust to deliver this campaign – tackling the stigma around mental health is particularly challenging but the footballing environment provides an ideal opportunity for us to reach out and ensure that players, coaches and volunteers alike are aware of their own wellbeing.
"We firmly believe that this campaign will help encourage people to speak about their problems and not be afraid to ask for help and support.”