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.

Tackling the Blues launches new bitesize mental health programme

Tackling the Blues, an award-winning sport and arts-based education programme, has launched a series of online bitesize lessons to help teachers support children and young people’s mental health during lockdown.

Developed in partnership by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, the new five-week programme BLUES has responded to the pupil mental health and wellbeing concerns faced by schools in the partnership.

BLUES stands for:  

  • Boosting your mood 
  • Loneliness 
  • Uncertaintyand dealing with it 
  • Emotions: anxiety and frustration 
  • Self-care and checking in

The programme is underpinned by the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing, with Edge Hill University students designing the programme in their roles as Tackling the Blues student mentors. The 48 student mentors have developed content to help schools across Merseyside and West Lancashire with the aim to connect to whole school approaches to mental health and wellbeing.

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. They said: “This past year has been an incredibly testing time for teachers and pupils across the country. That’s why it’s more important than ever that teachers are empowered with the tools to support better mental health and wellbeing for their pupils.

“We can’t wait to return to delivering the programme in person and are aiming to be in a position, restrictions permitting, to deliver the full Tackling the Blues programme following the Easter break.”

Lathom Park Primary School in Ormskirk is one of the schools enrolled on the BLUES programme. Teacher Evan Fraser said the programme has “provided an insight into how important it is to focus on emotional literacy”, and for their pupils to understand their own mental health and wellbeing.

Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community said: “Our Tackling the Blues programme has continued to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing landscape since its launch in 2015 and in particular the last 12-months. The introduction of the online BLUES Bitesize programme is the latest addition to the programme and something that will also be utilised to meet the mental health and wellbeing of needs of children nationally and internationally.

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 innovate ways in engaging students in knowledge exchange to improve their knowledge, understanding and experiences of mental health in education in local communities. 

Dr Deborah Riding, Programme Manager, Children & Young People at Tate Liverpool said: “Being able to deliver this activity online to schools during lockdown, using arts and sport to help get positive mental health messages out to young people, has been a significant achievement.

“The online sessions the partners have developed together has helped give schools flexibility at a time when they needed it and is beneficial to them and the pupils as an on-going resource. It has also provided a great opportunity for the student mentors to develop their digital skills which will be a huge asset to them when seeking employment.”

For more information about Tackling the Blues, visit its dedicated Twitter page @TacklingBlues.

Performer turned mentor wants mental health to take centre stage in schools

A performer who is training as a psychotherapist at Edge Hill is using her creative talents to encourage children and young people to open up about their mental health through the arts.

Olivia Izzo, 26, is currently studying an MSc in Psychotherapy and Counselling at Edge Hill following a career as a performer and actor. Since joining the University, Olivia has been appointed as a mentor for Tackling the Blues, Edge Hill’s mental health literacy programme for schools in partnership with Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool.

Tackling the Blues is a sport, physical activity, arts and education-based mental health literacy programme supporting children and young people aged 6 to 16 years who are experiencing, or at risk of developing, mental illness.

As a mentor, Olivia is hoping to use her creative flair to help children and young people to express their feelings through the arts.

Olivia, who is originally from South East London, said: “When I was younger, mental health was not a conversation in schools. As a result, we are finding more and more children who are reaching adolescence and are experiencing major mental health crises, because they are struggling and don’t know how to communicate their feelings.”

According to the Children’s Society, 10 per cent of children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70 per cent of children and adolescents who experience problems with their mental health have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently young age.

Alongside its existing sports and physical activity programmes, Tackling the Blues recently welcomed Tate Liverpool to the partnership to establish a new arts strand to encourage young people to use art as a tool to explore, understand and increase their mental health literacy.

Olivia said: “Art therapy can help at any age but if we specifically focus on children and young people then it’s a really useful approach. For a child, being able to draw and create with me beside them provides them with so much more freedom.

Depending on the age, some children don’t have the language to explain how they’re feeling or tell me they are worried, but they might be able to draw a picture which resembles how they are feeling. Combining what they enjoy doing with something that might feel a bit uncomfortable is a really powerful approach.”

Having enjoyed a career on stage, Olivia explains how her desire to help others with their mental health stems from seeing others struggle to express their emotions and suffer as a consequence.

She said: “I’m fortunate that I’ve always been a very expressive person and open with my emotions and I know how this isn’t the case for everyone.

“Programmes like Tackling the Blues are so important to kick-start the conversation about mental health at an early age. The programme helps children to not just talk about it but allows them to recognise what their feelings are and process them.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that we are setting the right example to children and young people by empowering them to have the tools in place to recognise and understand their emotions and know that it’s a sign of strength to talk about their feelings.”

Since its launch in 2015, Tackling the Blues has engaged over 1,000 young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire.

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

For more information and the latest news about Tackling the Blues follow us on Twitter. 

Tackling the Blues welcomes six new recruits as part of expansion programme

Top L-R: Rachel Wilcock, Aston Monro, Dr Emma Curd
Bottom L-R: James Ratcliffe, Emily McCurrie, Phil McClure

Award-winning mental health programme Tackling the Blues has appointed six new recruits to grow activities at a time when mental health has never been more important. 

Delivered by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, the programme promotes mental health in education through sports, physical activity and the arts.  

Tackling the Blues is delivered by students and staff across Edge Hill’s Department of Sport and Physical Activity and Faculty of Education and, since its launch in 2015, has engaged with almost 1,000 young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire.  

Funding for the new recruits follows on from a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England earlier this year in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience. The programme received the award for demonstrating the benefits it brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities. 

Emily McCurrie has joined Edge Hill’s Faculty of Education as the Partnership Development and Engagement Manager and will spend the first two years of her post leading the operational activity of Tackling the Blues. Prior to joining the programme, Emily lived in Scotland for 18 years, where she studied health psychology and worked as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist in the NHS. 

Emily will focus on developing partnership engagement with schools and education providers to create opportunities for student employability, work experience and enrichment activities. 

Tate Liverpool has appointed Dr Emma Curd and Phil McClure as Tackling the Blues Coordinators to oversee the development and delivery of the new arts strand and they will work to encourage young people to use art as a tool to explore, understand and aid their emotional health and wellbeing. 

Emma is an artist, facilitator and researcher, who uses creative and participatory methods to create spaces for discussion, collaboration and co-production. During her career, she has facilitated workshops and learning programmes in galleries, museums, libraries and higher education institutions, while Phil was previously the Lead for Participation and Democracy at Halton Youth Provision, where he supported young people dealing with issues around substance abuse, hidden harm and emotional health and wellbeing. In addition to this, he led on LGBTQ+ youth work in the borough. 

Everton in the Community has recruited James Ratcliffe as a new Tackling the Blues Coordinator to help develop the programme’s sports and physical activity strand. James previously completed his MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health at Edge Hill, where he gained experience as a lead mentor on Tackling the Blues. 

Edge Hill has recruited two Research Assistants, Rachel Wilcock and Aston Monro, who will be responsible for measuring the impact of the programme on children and young people and will evaluate how student mentors benefit from knowledge exchange opportunities. 

Rachel joins the team following three years in another Research Assistant role at Edge Hill, where she conducted programme evaluations for community-based programmes that address mental health and suicide concerns in the North West.  

Aston has recently graduated from Edge Hill with an MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health, during which time he received a bursary from the UEFA Foundation to work alongside Tackling the Blues as a mentor and researcher. 

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: “It is fantastic to be expanding our team as we reach such a significant point in the programme’s journey. 

“To date, Tackling the Blues has engaged with a thousand young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire with the aim to positively impact the lives and mental health of our communities. In such uncertain times for the world, we are looking forward to extending our reach and influence to help even more children and young people in the region to promote mental, physical and emotional literacy and improve their self-esteem and confidence, with the help of our student community.” 

Michael Salla, Everton in the Community Director of Health and Sport, said: “Building on the success of the programme since its launch in 2015, this addition of high-quality staff will allow us to better address the increasing prevalence of poor mental health among children and young people. The programme has demonstrated significant improvements with increasing mental wellbeing, reducing anxiety and increasing physical activity levels, which are all key areas and particularly during the current pandemic.”  

Dr Deborah Riding, Programme Manager, Children & Young People at Tate Liverpool, said: “Working in partnership with Edge Hill University and Everton in the Community in this way gives us, collectively, an exciting opportunity to embed a new way for children and young people with their schools and communities to engage with mental health. More than ever, given the current situation, children and young people need opportunities to develop their confidence and resilience through creative and cultural activity, raising aspirations and positively impacting on their wellbeing. We hope the expansion of the project can make a significant difference in the lives of many children and young people across the North West.” 

From January 2021, the Tackling the Blues team is excited to recommence its engagement activities with schools across the region. Click here to find out the latest news about Tackling the Blues.

USM Tackling the Blues campaign shortlisted for UK Content Awards

Theo Walcott, wearing his Everton FC kit, crouches down next to a boy and a girl from Linacre Primary School who wear light green jumpers.
Everton FC’s Theo Walcott chats to children from Linacre Primary School.

A children’s mental health awareness campaign which saw pupils’ drawings of their Blues heroes take centre stage at a Goodison Park matchday has been shortlisted for a national award.

The ‘USM Supports Tackling the Blues’ campaign has been shortlisted in the ‘Integrated Content Campaign of the Year’ category in the 2020 UK Content Awards.

As part of USM’s wider marketing campaign #unlockthepotential, USM invited children from Linacre Primary School in Bootle to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience and enabled them to see their portraits of Everton first-team players replace all in-game player graphics at the Blues’ Premier League fixture with Newcastle United in January.  

A child's drawing, in felt tip, of Fabian Delph in his Everton kit.
Fabian Delph

The children’s drawings appeared on stadium screens, in the matchday programme and across Everton’s official matchday social media and website output at the match. The images trended on social media and gained international media coverage with fans both at the stadium and online praising the children’s drawings and the partnership work between Everton and Edge Hill University on the ground-breaking Tackling the Blues programme.

Linacre Primary is one of a number of schools taking part in the ‘Tackling the Blues’ programme, delivered jointly by Everton in the Community and Edge Hill University, and funded by the Premier League.

The initiative aims to teach young people strategies for good mental and physical health, promote emotional literacy and improve self-esteem and confidence through a range of physical and class-based activities. 

Drawing portraits is just one of the ways that children are encouraged to explore emotions, behaviours and practise peer support.

Club partner USM invited the Linacre pupils to Everton’s training ground, USM Finch Farm, for the initial drawing session –  where they were surprised by Club captain Seamus Coleman, midfielders Fabian Delph and Theo Walcott, and goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, who sat for their portraits in person and took part in a Q&A with the children on the themes of acceptance, self-esteem, diversity and respect.

Professor Andy Smith from Edge Hill University, who alongside Everton in the Community designs and delivers the Tackling the Blues Programme, said: “To see this awareness-raising activity, informed by our research, recognised with a shortlisting for a national award is excellent news following the additional funding we have received from the Office for Students and Research England to expand the Tackling the Blues project over the next two years, and helps strengthen our work in this important area.

“Raising awareness of the importance of children’s mental health, and ensuring that children have access to the right tools they need to promote positive mental health is even more important now given the impacts of Covid-19 on school-based mental health, and the impact it is having on the inequalities which characterise the families and communities in which children live.” 

The ‘USM Supports Tackling the Blues’ campaign will compete against Flow Creative & The Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week Campaign, Hill+Knowlton Strategies & Smart Energy GB – The Missing Piece, Impression & Harvey Water Softeners – Making Water Work Harder, International SOS – COVID-19 Insight and Intelligence Campaign and The Think Tank – Asendia 7 Destinations Campaign. The winner will be announced on 20 October 2020.

The ‘USM Tackling The Blues’ matchday activity has also been shortlisted for Best Fan Engagement Campaign at the 2020 Sport Business Awards, the winner of which is announced in December.

Funding boost for University’s mental health activities with Everton and Tate

Schoolchildren raise their arms in the air and cheer while an Edge Hill University student waves a trophy.
Schoolchildren celebrate their achievements at a Tackling the Blues event hosted by Edge Hill.

A sport, art and education-based mental health awareness programme developed by Edge Hill University and Everton in the Community has been awarded half a million pounds in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience.

The £527k funding boost will ensure the University can expand its successful collaborations with Everton in the Community and further grow arts and wellbeing activities with Tate Liverpool.

The Office for Students and Research England unveiled the successful bids today (20th April) and Edge Hill has received the award for demonstrating the benefits the Tackling the Blues project brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities.

HRH Prince William chats to schoolchildren on a recent visit to a Tackling the Blues programme.

Dr Helen O’Keeffe, Associate Dean for Edge Hill’s Faculty of Education, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Office for Students and Research England sees our work as an example of best practice across the higher education sector.

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

The award-winning Tackling the Blues targets young people aged 6-16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, mental illness, and has already made a significant difference to people’s lives with participants feeling more confident and less anxious, and showing improved literacy and emotional intelligence skills.

Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill, said: “We are proud of our long-standing partnership with Everton in the Community, the charitable arm of Everton Football Club, and more recently with Tate Liverpool, and both partners are hugely committed to this programme.

“The funding will allow us to expand our activities with them and grow the arts and wellbeing activities. Crucially, it will enable us to increase students’ engagement in our research and knowledge exchange activities and provide them with unique opportunities to work with our partners to positively impact the lives of our communities.”

Everton in the Community’s Tackling the Blues Coordinator Jack Mulineux said: “To be one of the recipients of this funding is great news and it will allow us to continue to work with our long-standing partner Edge Hill University but also create a new and exciting opportunity to work with Tate Liverpool.

“Not only will this enhance our reach but it will also contribute to the expansion of our provision which will continue to be aligned with improving health-related outcomes using innovative practices such as the arts to promote wellbeing.”

Director of Tate Liverpool Helen Legg added: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to deepen our partnership with Edge Hill University and extend our work on children’s mental health. It’s a transformative opportunity and we are confident that art and creative activity can play a valuable role in improving an individual’s mental health and build their emotional intelligence.”

Since its launch in 2013, Tackling the Blues has engaged more than 1,000 young people weekly in primary schools, secondary schools and community groups.