Alex Welsh nominated for a Mental Health Hero Award

Anonymous 12 February 2015

On Thursday 5th February Alex Welsh, Chief Executive of London Playing Fields Foundation, was invited to attend a Time to Talk event in Whitehall hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The evening celebrated the contributions of individuals who are leading the way in changing lives through pioneering new or innovative ways of supporting people with mental health problems. Alex was nominated for a Mental Health Hero Award to celebrate his contribution towards the Coping Through Football project. Out of 900 entrants he was shortlisted for the London regional prize.

Alex was the originator of the Coping Through Football project when in 2005, appalled by reports of the growing suicide rates of young males, he contacted North East London Foundation Trust to explore ways to work together to use physical activity as part of the recovery programme for adults with mental health problems.

NELFT was very receptive to the idea for at the time they were working with a particular client group who were reluctant to engage in mental health services. From the outset the regular football sessions, run by Leyton Orient Trust’s qualified coaches, proved to be popular and became a pivotal part of the week for many of the service users. For both staff and service users it became a chance to have a different conversation, not loaded with problems about someone’s mental health, but more positive conversations about potential, goals and aspirations.

Alex had succeeded in offering something that many services had struggled to deliver, a mainstream, socially inclusive project with a non-stigmatising approach to supporting people with mental health problems. The project is about helping individuals to get their lives back through reconnecting with their communities and achieving real outcomes in returning to education and study, and securing paid and voluntary work.

Instrumental to the success of the project has been the work that Alex achieved through working in partnership, including securing funding and implementing comprehensive monitoring and evaluation systems. His passion and tenacity to improve lives through sport has ensured that ten years on the project has been able to extend its reach and continues to flourish.