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Reading FC Community Trust

Sport in Mind | A local charity with football at its heart

Using the power of football to help people experiencing mental health problems

16 October 2019

Reading Football Club pride ourselves on being a club at the heart of the community, helping local people and organisations. We are passionate about football and the positive impact it can have on our local community.

This weekend when we play Preston, our Community Trust have dedicated their annual day of action to focusing on mental wellbeing – so this week we continue to shine the spotlight on the way different ways our club promotes good mental health.

Football has the power to make a real difference to the lives of local people experiencing mental health problems and Reading is very fortunate to have the nationally-acclaimed mental health charity Sport in Mind based in the town.

Sport in Mind has a simple mission – to use sport to help local people experiencing mental health problems – a cause that resonates with our club. Since the charity was established in 2010 they have helped the recovery of over 11,000 local people experiencing mental health problems and have run yearly football tournaments at the club’s Madejski Dome for the benefit of their service users.


For World Mental Health Day (10th October) the charity ran their yearly tournament at the Dome, supporting over 100 local people with mental health problems, and we caught up with Sport in Mind’s founder, Neil Harris, to learn more about the charity and its origins…

Sport in Mind’s work in Reading and surrounding area

The origin of Sport in Mind can be traced back to 2009 when a childhood friend of mine suffered mental health problems. My friend was crippled with severe anxiety and depression, and reluctant to engage with traditional mental health services. As his mental health worsen and he became socially isolated, I decided I needed to do something proactive to help.

I have always been passionate about both sport and mental health as two of my grandparents struggled with mental illness, so I decided to bring my two passions together to design a bespoke sport and physical activity programme to help aid my friend’s recovery. Little did I realise that this would inspire a charity that would help thousands of local people with mental health problems.


My friend was initially quite reluctant to engage in my Sport in Mind programme, however, with a little bit of encouragement I managed to persuade him to take part in some gentle physical activity – small, manageable steps to help rebuild his confidence. Within 4 weeks of engaging, there were clear improvements in his health and wellbeing. For the next 6 months, I worked closely with him, utilising my bespoke sport and physical activity programme and the results were staggering. Within 9 months my friend’s symptoms had significantly reduced, he was showing improved levels of self-esteem and was back in full-time employment. 9 years on and my friend has been relapse free all these years, and continues to manage his mental health through sport and physical activity.

Following the success of the Sport in Mind programme, I made the decision to see if I could use the sport I love – football – to make a difference to lives of local people in Reading experiencing mental health problems. I promptly set up a little football group, which engaged a large group of young men struggling with mental health problems, who, like my friend, were reluctant to engage with more traditional mental health services. This proved very successful and bought Sport in Mind’s attention to Berkshire NHS.

In 2011, I formed a partnership with Berkshire NHS and set Sport in Mind up as a charity. The charity was established with the aim of using sport to improve the health and wellbeing of local people experiencing mental health problems and combating mental health stigma.

Since then the charity has grown steadily, working in close partnership with Berkshire NHS, to deliver weekly sport and physical activity groups in the community and in inpatient care at Prospect Park Hospital. Sport in Mind’s work has gained national acclaim and is now being delivered in partnership with all the NHS trusts across the South East.

In June, Sport in Mind’s work received the highest honour a charity can receive by winning the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

This was an amazing achievement for a little Reading charity and people often attribute its success down to me, however, the success of Sport in Mind is due to all the amazing people in our local community that volunteer, donate and fundraise for the charity. Without all their amazing support the charity wouldn’t have been able to support thousands of local people struggling with mental health problems.

Sport in Mind and Reading FC

Last season Sport in Mind were delighted to receive financial support from Reading FC with a donation of £2,000 to support our local services. Such donations are vital for a little charity such as ours as we don’t receive financial assistance from the local NHS or Council and are reliant on the generosity of local people, either through donations or fundraising.

rfc v birm 27.jpg

Part of the funding Reading FC donated helped us finance our annual football tournament at the Madejski Dome which engaged over 100 men and women with mental health problems from our football groups across Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Bucks and Hampshire. The tournament again proved a huge success and for the second year running the Reading team triumphed.

In addition to the financial support Reading FC have offered us, we have recently formed a partnership with the club’s Academy to provide bespoke mental health support and training to the club’s up and coming youngsters. This is an exciting and unique partnership for both Sport in Mind and Reading FC as it will enable us to work together to ensure the club’s academy players have enhanced knowledge of mental health problems and psychological challenges that come with being a professional footballer.

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