Before Swindon Town's Project Me was implemented at his school, the programme was informed that Riley, a Selective Mute, didn’t communicate with teachers or fellow pupils.
Prior to the first week, the course was tailored to suit this individual situation. As the project began however, despite Riley’s mutism, he fully immersed himself into the Project Me experience. He listened intently to his coaches and peers, and provided full detailed answers in his workbook, which he clearly took great personal pride in.
The warm-up game had begun, when Riley walked across the playground to the coaches and calmly asked: “How do I play this game again?” The coaches could hardly believe what they were witnessing, but calmly answered in kind, so as not to draw attention to – and possibly jeopardise – this breakthrough.
Over the coming weeks, Riley’s verbal communication progressed even further, to the point where, by week eight, he was openly engaging in conversation with the coaches about his thoughts and feelings.
The mentoring programme, which won the Sky Bet League Two Project of the Season at the EFL Awards, is aimed at children with mild-to-moderate mental health concerns, using the link between physical activity and mental wellbeing to positively impact children identified as suffering, but not meeting the thresholds for intervention.
The idea was taken to the NHS BSW Clinical Commissioning Group where the Club was subsequently referred to the children’s charity Barnardo’s.
A 10-week course with additional football sessions, holiday courses, and graduation fun days, is offered to primary, secondary, Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and Social, Emotional, and Mental Health needs (SEMH) schools, as well as children out of education and home-schooled children.
The programme is divided into three strands: Project Me for Children not in Mainstream Education, Project Me Holiday Courses, and Project Me Scholarship Sessions.
Overall, Project Me saw reduction in anxiety, an improvement in confidence, resilience and an increased number of participants joining in with group activities and team-sport.
.@Official_STFC's Project Me programme aims to tackle mental health concerns in young children.— EFL (@EFL) October 10, 2022
The project continues to be delivered in schools across Swindon 👏#EFL | #WorldMentalHealthDay pic.twitter.com/c71kK8XFnY
But the impact is evident in the programme’s participants.
And it doesn’t stop there. It is now in its third wave, delivering the project to schools across Swindon, and has recently secured further funding taking the project up to February 2023, allowing participants receive support and guidance from Foundation staff to realise their potential.