As part of its role as the Mind Regional Lead for sport, physical activity and mental health, the Herts Sports and Physical Activity Partnership (HSP) – based at the University of Hertfordshire – recently held its annual conference.

Representatives of over 100 organisations from the public, private and community and voluntary sector registered for the virtual event which consisted of a range of keynote addresses and interactive workshops, exploring the impact of sport and physical activity on positive mental wellbeing.

The Conference was opened by Hannah Beecham of RED January – an organisation which, over the past 5 years has empowered 150,000 people to embrace physical activity to improve their mental health and in doing so, raised over £2.7m for mental health charities.. The inspiring keynote plotted the journey of RED January and how the campaign could be used to create and employ a wellness drive.

Next up was Richard Lucas of GoVox – the online mental health and wellbeing platform that enables users to ‘prioritise the conversations that matter’ through regular ‘check-ins’ with those in their team. The session evoked much food for thought as to how this simple but effective digital tool can be used within sports club settings, to ensure clubs can support their members when they most need it.

In his session, former HSP employee, Matt Hughes-Short of Public Health England stressed the importance of evaluation of mental health related programmes, to measure impact and flagged up the sensitivity of data collection when dealing with clients with mental health issues.

The afternoon keynote saw Hope Virgo – a leading international and award-winning advocate for people with eating disorders –discussing the relationship between mental health and eating disorders and how physical activity and involvement in sport can be used to help counter this.

The final session of the day, delivered by Liam Dwyer and Charis Norman – two Hertfordshire Just Talk ambassadors – showcased the fantastic work being undertaken around positive mental health for boys and girls in Hertfordshire, as part of the Just Talk initiative – a local movement born in 2017, which has extensive research and consultation with teenagers at its heart.

In reflecting on the success of the Conference, HSP Lead for Mental Health and Sport and Physical, Alicja Polak said:

“I was delighted with the content and turn out for this, our inaugural Sport and Physical Activity and Mental Health Conference. I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to our impressive line-up of speakers, who gave us such an informed and invaluable insight into their specialist areas and highlighted how sport and physical activity can be used as very important building blocks, towards positive mental health for Hertfordshire residents.”

Echoing Polak’s sentiments, HSP Partnership Director, John O’Callaghan said:

“The ongoing pandemic is having a major impact on the mental health of Hertfordshire’s residents – particularly our young people. I have no doubt whatsoever that as we move out of the current arrangements into the new normal, that our physical activity instructors and sports coaches within our many clubs will find themselves on the new front line for mental health issues. The greater the awareness around such matters, the better that we as the sport and physical activity sector, will be able to respond.

I have seen first-hand how involvement in sport and physical activity can have a marked impact in countering mental health issues. We at HSP are determined to play our part in helping to breakdown the stigma that surrounds mental health and to ensure that consideration of mental health is front and centre in the design and delivery of sport and physical activity interventions.”

For further details of HSP’s work around mental health and sport and physical activity, please go to: https://sportinherts.org.uk/physical-activity-for-wellbeing/

To watch session recordings please visit our You Tube channel.

For further details contact Alicja Polak at a.polak@herts.ac.uk