In November 2019, the Sunderland Supporters Branch Liaison Council (BLC) created a Matchday Mental Health Hub at the Stadium of Light to give fans, home and away, who may be suffering the chance to seek help, support and guidance in a non-clinical environment.
The BLC has lost a number of their members to suicide, so the aim of the project was to provide a safe space to talk on matchdays but also equip members, club and Foundation staff with skills to help and sign-post anyone who may be suffering.
Organised with support from Washington Mind, the matchday hub played a big part for many supporters attending games at the Stadium of Light. For the eight fixtures for which they were providing the service pre-lockdown, a number of home and away fans sought support directly through the hub with a large number of supporters visiting for further information.
The service is a lifeline to many supporters in the North East, with one fan who came to visit saying:
"Being a Sunderland supporter, I noticed that the 'fans supporting fans initiative' and that fans, along with Mind, were involved in establishing a matchday mental health hub at the Beacon of Light. It was a pretty spontaneous feeling, but rather than a pre-match pint, I thought let's check this out. Any apprehension I had about going in was quickly removed by the friendly faces of the volunteers.
"They were welcoming and explained the confidential nature of their work and I was really reassured. Following the check-in procedure, I was taken to a private consultation area where I spoke with a trained counsellor from Mind. A couple of hours later, I felt like I was able to unload a lot of information in confidence and I was provided with a suggestion for further support that I could access for the specific issues I faced.
"The matchday mental health hub initially provided the 'first aid' that was needed but also pointed me in the direction of a bit more help. I managed to get onto a cognitive behaviour course the next week and after several weeks of the course the waterfall had disappeared."
Without fans being able to attend fixtures, unfortunately the BLC Matchday Mental Health Hub has been unable to continue to be delivered impacting those within the community who may have previously sought support.
However, the BLC have continued to provide support through other means as it became evident that the social side of following your club means so much more to so many people.
Their social media platforms have become the new way of checking in on friends and keeping in touch and, working with Washington Mind, established a daily telephone support service to continue to support fans.
Alongside the telephone service, they have also run a number of various feel-good projects, such as 'name the player' activity, worldwide pink slice baking challenge (with supporters as far as New Zealand taking part) and celebrating Sunderland fans.
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