• Football projects through the Thriving Communities Programme Fund are helping individuals and communities tackle loneliness, improve wellbeing and recover from COVID-19 
  • It will help support people to stay connected and maintain their health and wellbeing  
  • Social prescribing sees football being offered as a tool to manage health conditions 

As footballing stars take to the pitch for the final of the European Football Championships, and fans gather round to enjoy the camaraderie of getting behind the national team, we’re reminded of just how powerful football can be.  

And across the country the benefits of football are being seen at a grassroots level, through innovative social prescribing projects. 

Social prescribing is the process of a social prescribing link worker or health professionals referring people to activities in the community that support or improve their health and wellbeing.  Social prescribing link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing.  

For some people, what matters and works for them is football. Football can not only improve physical health, but also impacts mental wellbeing, provides access to outdoor spaces, and enables people to feel connected to others.  

In Yorkshire Happier Healthier Heeley Plus are working with Sheffield United Community Foundation who run football sessions for different members of the community for physical, social and mental wellbeing benefits.  As well as adults and children enjoying football fun, they want to show the benefits to social prescribing link workers of referring people to take part in a local session.   

Ruth Nutter, Creative Producer and Project Co-ordinator at Heeley Trust says

“Football is something everyone can join in with to feel better – the rising popularity of walking football means that more people can revisit or begin a love of sport in a way that works for them.” 

The You Trust are working in collaboration with Pompey in the Community (PitC), the charity of Portsmouth Football Club. PitC have developed a range of programmes and workshops that combine sport, physical activity, training and wellbeing to develop community cohesion. The charity uses the passion of football to engage with the most vulnerable and hard to reach members of our community. As part of the Thriving Coastal Communities project they offer a ten week walking football programme for men over 50 who have a love for the sport.  

Ellenor Gray, Community Services Manager says:

“With less stress on the body and no real sudden change of direction or movements, the game allows the participants to play without apprehension. As well as offering health benefits, walking football offers social benefits – the opportunity for participants to meet new people, prevent isolation and create interaction for individuals and small groups.” 

The Regeneration Project in Hampshire is offering football sessions to explore how young people with long-term health conditions can participate in football with limited adaptations.  These sessions are being run by a disability coach from Hampshire FA, and there is a vision to develop a Southampton Children’s Hospital Football Team in the future.  

The Green Social Prescribing project in Plymouth is using the power of football to encourage people from the local community to become more physically active and encourage them to get back into the great outdoors. Using the interest in the Euro 2020 football tournament and the success of the England football team in particular several initiatives have been developed over recent weeks including a new Soccercise programme which has encouraged females to utilise the park and use football to help them become more active.  

Argyle Community Trust’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, Ben Kerswell, says:

“The Soccercise sessions have been a great way to get people using the park again. Having to use and concentrate on footballs means you are exercising without sometimes even realising it. Being linked to Plymouth Argyle football club and having the recent success of the England football team means we are in a unique position of being able to reach people that other organisations may find difficult to engage with.” 

These are just a few of a number of projects supported by the National Academy for Social Prescribing’s (NASP) flagship Thriving Communities Fund.  

Along with partners, Arts Council England, NHS England and Improvement, Sport England, Natural England, Historic Emgland, the Money & Pensions Service and NHS Charities Together, NASP have committed £1.8 million to supporting communities to recover from COVID-19.  

The Thriving Communities Fund supports local voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise projects that bring together place-based partnerships to improve and increase the range and reach of available social prescribing community activities. The 37 funded projects focus on arts, culture and heritage, nature and green spaces, physical activity, and financial and life advice. Focusing on what works for each individual and community, it supports the National Academy for Social Prescribing’s aims to build relationships, grow the evidence base and share what works, all whilst raising awareness of social prescribing.  

Kevin Duala, footballer, dancer and broadcaster turned his life around through the power of physical activity commented: 

“I believe playing any sport will test your mental strength and working in a team has huge mental health benefits”– and social prescribing would have definitely helped me. “I’m very interested in social prescribing because I really believe that at my time of need had I had access to social prescribing, I may in fact, well, I’m pretty certain I’d have got to where I am now a lot quicker. If you feel unsure about where you are in your life or things are closing in! If you have to ask yourself the question? Then speak to your GP and say, ‘Look, I need someone to talk to, can I see a link worker?’ and get access to the resources and activities available through social prescribing. “Social prescribing can make your life better” 

Kevin was recently interviewed by Dr Radha Modgil on Podcast on Prescription. 

Jim Burt, Director of Programmes at NASP says:

“Social prescribing works because it encourages people to think about what health and wellbeing means for them, and directs them to activities that allow this. For many, football is something that brings a lot of benefit, and we’re delighted to support these innovative social prescribing activities which are supporting individuals and communities not only recover from the pandemic, but enhance their health for the long term.” 

Find out more about the Thriving Communities programme and funded projects