Edge Hill student highlights impact of expanding child mental health programme

Three schoolchildren draw pictures in workbooks while a student mentor helps out.
Tackling the Blues has reached more than 2,500 school pupils to date.

An Edge Hill student is highlighting the profound impact of award-winning child mental health programme Tackling the Blues as it gets set to expand. 

Summer Cunningham, a student mentor for the sport and arts-based mental health education programme, highlighted how her own contribution has made a difference to children’s lives as the programme expands into Greater Manchester. 

As schools continue to respond to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of student mentors who support delivery of the programme will increase from 48 last academic year to more than 80 this year; more than 2,500 pupils have been reached to date. 

A student wearing a Tackling the Blues t-shirt holds up a drawing.
Summer Cunningham is a student mentor on the arts branch of Tackling the Blues child mental health programme.

Summer, a third-year student from Kettering, Northamptonshire, said:

“I remember one of the girls I worked with last year showed a 180 turnaround in self-confidence – she started out incredibly shy and unable to verbalise her answers to questions, to being loud and proud in herself, practically shouting the answers at us. When we had to leave she was so full of gratitude and cried us out the door; that’s when I really reflected and knew that we had made a difference.

“And to be taking part in the programme during the Covid-19 pandemic has really helped me too. I lost a lot of motivation last year so to be doing something useful like this made a huge difference to my own mental health.

“Tackling the Blues has also given me a unique experience to work with respected organisations, promoting mental health and wellbeing directly with children, most from deprived areas, to improve their outcomes. You can visibly see the development of literacy and emotional processing from week to week.” 

Tackling the Blues – delivered in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool – supports children and young people aged 6-16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, mental illness. 

Since its launch in 2015 a significant difference has already been made to many lives, with participating young people across the Liverpool City Region, Lancashire and now Greater Manchester displaying more confidence and less anxiety, with improved literacy and emotional intelligence skills. 

Dr Helen O’Keeffe, from the Faculty of Education, and Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity, both lead on the project at Edge Hill. 

“The Tackling the Blues project not only makes a vital difference to the children and families we work with who suffer from some of the poorest health and wellbeing in the country, it also makes an important contribution to the student experience, employability, knowledge exchange and research. 

“We are delighted that we are in a position to continue to expand this vital work during the current academic year.” 

Dr Emma Curd, Tackling the Blues coordinator for Tate Liverpool, vouched for the positive impact the programme also has on student mentors. 

“Since meeting Summer in 2019, we have seen her confidence flourish and grow in the classroom. From taking on leadership roles to developing unique and creative activities for young people to engage with, Summer is now an experienced and assured mentor. 

“She is particularly skillful in supporting the creation of a safe and creative environment for young people to talk about their feelings and emotions.” 

Tackling the Blues is continuing to develop as a result of ongoing funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League.

Children and young people’s mental health programme celebrates record year

Edge Hill University’s Tackling the blues mentors at Ormskirk High

The award-winning children’s mental health programme, Tackling the Blues, is celebrating a milestone year after supporting a record number of new children and young people across the North West. 

The sport, art and education-based mental health awareness programme, delivered by Edge Hill University in partnership with Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, has successfully engaged with more than 1,500 children and young people across 20 schools in Merseyside and West Lancashire over the past 12 months. 

Founded in 2015, Tackling the Blues is delivered by staff and students from the Department of Sport and Physical Activity and the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University and is designed to improve the mental health literacy of children and young people aged six to 16 who are experiencing, or at risk of developing, mental illness.  

Professor of Sport and Physical Activity, Andy Smith, and Dr Helen O’Keeffe from the Faculty of Education, both lead on the project at Edge Hill.  

Prof Smith said: “To have reached a record number of new children and young people, despite the challenges the past year has presented, bears testament to the hard work and dedication of the Tackling the Blues team. Our student mentors and our partner schools have worked tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to improve their mental health literacy.” 

Dr O’Keeffe added: “Thanks to the efforts of the Tackling the Blues team, more than 1,500 children and young people have joined us on the journey to break the stigma around mental health. We’re looking forward to the future and will be building on the successes of the last 12 months to reach even more children and young people through our growing range of delivery models.” 

Figures for the last academic year also revealed that more than 600 Edge Hill students have engaged directly with the programme through mentoring and mental health training opportunities. More than 500 students received Ambassador of Hope training, delivered by national mental health charity Chasing the Stigma, which focuses on how to talk about mental health and illness, how to effectively find help and signpost using the Hub of Hope resources and what to do in a mental health emergency. 

The past year also saw more than 500 students engage with external artists and Everton in the Community staff. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop to in-person mentoring sessions, Edge Hill’s student mentors launched a series of online bitesize lessons, called BLUES, to help teachers support children and young people’s mental health during lockdown. 

Jack Mullineux, Tackling the Blues Lead Coordinator at Everton in the Community (EitC), said: “Tackling the Blues has grown significantly during the last 12 months with the addition of an arts strand, complimenting the current sports strand which has been developed by EitC.  

“Throughout the year, the programme continued to support children and young people with an online and in-person approach which was delivered by mentors from Edge Hill.  This approach has enabled the programme to expand its reach and support more school groups and children and young people throughout primary and secondary schools in Merseyside and West Lancashire. Due to the expansion of the programme, additional student opportunities will be available in a lead and support mentoring capacity.” 

Alison Jones, Programme Manager, Public & Community Learning at Tate Liverpool, said: “It has been wonderful to be able to use art to connect with so many young people over the last year and help them unlock their creativity to improve their mental health literacy. The development of the online sessions during COVID-19 also highlight the importance of being able to access these resources when times get tough and the number of children and young people engaging in the programme is a testament to that.” 

The programme received a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England in 2020/2021, in recognition of the vital impact it has had on the student experience and the benefits it brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities. 

Supported by funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League Charitable Fund, Tackling the Blues uses a student focussed model to provide innovative ways in engaging students in knowledge exchange to improve their knowledge, understanding and experiences of mental health in education and local communities.   

If you are interested in finding out more about Tackling the Blues or are a student from the Faculty of Education or the Department of Sport and Physical Activity who is interested in participating as a mentor in the 2021/2022 academic year are encouraged to visit the new Tackling the Blues website to find out more informationor visit @TacklingBlues on Twitter. 

Everton legend Snodin goes back to school to ‘Tackle the Blues’

Everton legend Ian Snodin (centre) joins pupils from St. John’s Primary School for a Tackling the Blues session

Everton legend Ian Snodin went back to school this week to support Tackling the Blues, the award-winning project run by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community (EitC) and Tate Liverpool which uses sport and the arts to help schoolchildren at risk of developing mental health problems. 

The 57-year-old was at St. John’s Primary School in Southport, one of a number of schools supported by the project which is being featured as part of this week’s national MadeAtUni campaign highlighting the role universities play in supporting their local communities and their health and wealth recovery from the impact of Covid. 

The project so far has reached over 2,000 pupils across the Northwest region, combining classroom well-being mentoring sessions with sport, physical activity and the arts to contribute to the prevention and early intervention of mental health problems in children and young people. Student mentors from Edge Hill University deliver the sessions in schools, helping to support their employability opportunities after graduating. 

Throughout this school year, Tackling the Blues has held virtual online sessions with schools in response to growing concerns about pupils’ well-being during lockdown but returned to the classrooms across the region during April. 

The programme also responded with delivering one day Tackling the Blues inputs to reach new schools – just in time for the end of term. Snodin, who is an Everton Ambassador took part in special end of term sports day celebration with pupils from the school and staff from Edge Hill and EitC. 

Said Snodin of his visit to the project: “I loved it and I’ve missed being able to do this sort of thing. I’ve got grandchildren myself, so I know how difficult it’s been for these children over the last year or so because they’re used to going to school and being with their friends. 

“It’s been tough for them being at home during the lockdowns, so for Everton in the Community, Edge Hill University and Tate Liverpool to have come together like this to help them during those times and now be able to get back in the classroom with them is fantastic. From the minute we walked in you could see the smile on their faces.” 

Leah, 10, who took part in the session, said: “I really like being part of Tackling the Blues, the mentors are amazing. My favourite part is the PE sessions because I love doing sport even though sometimes, I might not win. Being around a famous ex- Everton footballer was great because I support Everton. Most people in my family support Everton as well so I can’t wait to tell them.

“We do lots of mental health and well-being as well as the sport. It’s really helped build up my confidence, and helped me to talk to new people.” 

Emily McCurrie, Partnership Development & Engagement Manager at Edge Hill University, project manages Tackling the Blues said: “It was fantastic to be here and see the project in action with the children and the mentors from the University. To have Ian here to support the day has been brilliant and to see all the hard work that Everton in the Community, the University and Tate Liverpool put in, and the impact it has on the children is great. 

“Having the three different partners delivering the project brings a number of benefits in terms of helping the schools to tackle mental health with the children, and it’s brilliant to see it all come together. The children are learning how to deal with their emotions and this, along with helping their mental health literacy, is so important especially with everything that’s happened in the last year.

“There is often a perception that universities exist separately from their communities but projects like Tackling the Blues show that isn’t the case.” 

For more information on Tackling the Blues visit their website. To find out more about MadeAtUni visit [email protected].

Empowering students to become mental health champions

A team of student mentors from Edge Hill University have shared their personal experiences of training to become mental health champions for award-winning programme Tackling the Blues. 

The mentors have completed a major programme of training to boost their mental health literacy and enhance their employability skills since joining Tackling the Blues. The programme is a sport and arts-based education programme developed in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool. 

To date, Tackling the Blues has supported over 400 Edge Hill students to complete Chasing the Stigma’s Ambassador of Hope training. This training focusses on how to talk about mental health and illness, how to effectively find help and signpost using the Hub of Hope and what to do in a mental health emergency. 

Additional training sessions have seen mentors become certified Youth Mental Health First Aid Champions, as well as complete social and emotional courses in Psychological First Aid: Supporting Children and Young People,  Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) early Trauma online learning and Zero Suicide Alliance

The knowledge and skills gained through  mental health training were implemented by Tackling the Blues mentors during University Mental Health Day on 4th March 2021. The mentors designed and delivered a student peer-to-peer event including a host of creative and interactive workshops addressing current issues in mental health and wellbeing. 

From enhancing their delivery of Tackling the Blues programme to children and young people across the North West, to boosting their employability, skills and confidence, the mentors reflect on how the training has helped them. 

Christopher Siu

Christopher Siu, 20, a Sports Coaching & Development student, said: “The Tackling the Blues training programme has definitely opened up new insights on mental health and improved my literacy around the subject. I believe I am now more confident in presenting myself and the skills I have acquired to potential employers. The training I’ve received influenced the way I delivered my part during the University Mental Health Day event because, at the time, I was very nervous and afraid of speaking about my personal experience with mental health and not knowing if I was using the correct terminology. However, since undergoing the training, I was able to efficiently deliver my part with confidence.”

Elise Rendell

Elise Rendell, 22, an MSc student in Sport, Physical Activity & Mental Health, said: “Having seen a few of my friends struggle with their mental health and having struggled living on my own while at university, I’ve wanted to help people through that difficult time. After I started my Masters at Edge Hill, I was given the option to apply for Tackling the Blues and I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to try and help younger children to be more aware of their feelings and their mental health. I feel that the Tackling the Blues accredited training has given a massive boost for my employability as it’s given me exposure to working with children and young people, as well as having the experience of planning and delivering the sessions myself.” 

Molly Harrison

Molly Harrison, 21, an MSc student in Sport, Physical Activity & Mental Health, said: “During the University Mental Health Day event, we focused on teaching the students a range of coping mechanisms to help them deal with their mental health and the wellbeing of others while at university. We also wanted to raise awareness of mental health in general and some of the misconceptions around it. We were able to pass on the learnings from our own training to the students to help boost their mental literacy. Personally, the training has improved my skills as a Tackling the Blues mentor, and I enjoy being able to help other people open up about how they’re feeling and empowering them with the tools to understand and articulate it.” 

Taigh Wilson

Taigh Wilson, 21, a Sports Management & Coaching student, said: “The amount of training we have received has really developed my knowledge of mental health. It’s taught me how to talk about the issue appropriately and help others to understand the importance of emotional literacy. On a personal level, my presentation and communication skills have improved a lot through the programme, and I’ve noticed a big boost in my confidence levels too. Tackling the Blues has opened my eyes to pursuing a career in community sport, which I wouldn’t have realised if it wasn’t for the experiences that I’ve had access to through the programme.” 

Charlotte Hall

Charlotte Hall, 20, a Sports and Exercise Science student, said: “The training helped to inform my approach and delivery of my role as a Tackling the Blues mentor at a special educational needs (SEN) school. We have received certificates for all of the training courses completed and it‘s allowed us to develop a lot of transferable skills. I feel that the training has enhanced all of the mentors’ skillsets, especially for those wanting to pursue a career in mental health or working with children.” 

Supported by funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League Charitable Fund, Tackling the Blues uses a student focussed model to provide innovative ways in engaging students in knowledge exchange to improve their knowledge, understanding and experiences of mental health in education and local communities.  

Students from the Faculty of Education or the Department of Sport and Physical Activity who are interested in finding out more about Tackling the Blues and how they can get involved in the 2021/2022 academic year are encouraged to visit the new Tackling the Blues website to find out more information.