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How the Foundation is promoting positive mental health

A round-up of Manchester United Foundation’s wellbeing sessions for young people

| by Matthew Brown

Manchester United Foundation is delivering year-round activities to encourage young people to look after their mental wellbeing.

As part of the Foundation’s education and community outreach programmes, our young people benefit from several initiatives to support them with their mental health.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, we have rolled out the United Minds programme – delivered alongside mental health charity, Manchester Mind – across our partner schools in Greater Manchester and further afield.

United Minds focuses on various areas to help our young people develop and reinforce positive habits relating to mental health. Lesson topics include self-reflection, managing emotions, and healthy coping strategies.

Year seven pupils from Copley Academy were recently tasked with practising gratitude and reframing negative automatic thoughts into more positive thoughts and feelings.

“It’s very interesting to learn about things you can do when you’re stressed,” said Isaac.

“I’ve developed more emotional intelligence and matured when it comes to difficult questions. I’ve learned strategies to overcome these challenges in life.”

In 2021, the Foundation delivered 5,000 wellbeing books and footballs to help children across the region with their wellbeing. Wellbeing footballs - which continue to be used as part of our lesson delivery - feature positive phrases that encourage our young people to open up to one another.

Earlier this year, pupils from Co-op Academy Swinton had the opportunity to take part in wellbeing activities using the footballs, alongside Manchester United stars, Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Alejandro Garnacho and Ella Toone, at Carrington Training Ground.

“I enjoyed meeting the players and socialising with people I don’t normally spend time with,” said Alfie, a Year 10 pupil from Co-op Academy Swinton.

“The programme has helped me, it’s motivated me to do well in lesson, to do my schoolwork. Before this, I wasn’t feeling as good as I am now.

Partner high school pupils have also been discussing important topics to them, including mental health, bullying and social media, on the United Minds podcast in the 2022/23 academic year.

All frontline members of the Foundation workforce – encompassing more than 100 staff – have received mental health training from Mind, ensuring that our team can signpost young people who are experiencing poor mental health to relevant support services.

“Looking out for our own and others’ mental health has never been more important,” said Jason Williamson, High School Partnership Co-ordinator and Mental Health Lead for the Foundation. “It’s crucial that we help our young people recognise the importance of protecting their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Our United Minds programme is ensuring that our participants have a diverse range of techniques at hand to continue practising positive mental health. It’s beneficial not just for them individually, but to pass on their knowledge to wider family and friends, too.

“Our young people are demonstrating high levels of emotional intelligence as they are encouraged to embrace being open about their thoughts and feelings, and that bodes incredibly well for their futures, both personally and professionally.”

The Foundation also brought together young people from partner schools Bredbury Green Primary School and Werneth High School to mark Walk To School Week.

Sports leaders from Werneth walked to Bredbury to meet a group of year six students, before walking back to their high school – alongside Fred The Red – where they continued the fun by participating in sports activities together.

One of Werneth’s sports leader students, Charlie, said: “It’s so easy these days for kids to end up stuck inside on their phones.

“We wanted to get them outside, first for a walk with Fred The Red, as part of Walk To School week, and then playing some fun activities to get them moving and show how fun and beneficial it is to keep active.”

Bredbury Green pupil, Layla, 11, added: “I’ve had a lot of fun! We got to walk from our school to Werneth with Fred The Red, which was really cool, and then we got to play football and basketball games.

“I love being outside as it’s not only good for your physical health, but it makes you feel better inside, too. It’s good for your mental health to go out and explore.”

Other mental health provision includes the Premier League Changemakers programme, offering girls aged 11-16 across our Street Reds sites the opportunity to gain a United Nations qualification.

Changemakers helps girls to feel empowered and increase their awareness and understanding of mental health.

Following the 2021/22 season, Foundation participants reported 72.1% greater levels of aspiration, 63.7% higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, and 62.9% greater levels of mental wellbeing and resilience.