for better mental health

Case Study: Physical Activity Advisory Group

Project lead's story

The Get Set to Go programme was co-designed and co-delivered by people with lived experience of mental health problems. We created a Physical Activity Advisory Group (PAAG) to further influence the programme and to shape Mind’s wider sport and physical activity work at a national level. The group is made up of 12 people who have a wide range of personal and professional mental health experiences. We also made sure that the group has a wide range of physical activity experience, from those who are not very active and have faced multiple barriers to becoming active, to those who compete at an elite level.

Our group usually meets three times a year in person and we started to hold virtual meetings during the 2020 pandemic.

Why did you decide to involve people in this way?

We wanted to help leisure centres, sports clubs, gyms, and other sport and physical activity providers to create a more welcoming environment for people with mental health problems. In keeping with Mind’s values, we wanted to make sure that this work is influenced by people with lived experience so we can deliver appropriate and effective services that meet their needs.

We decided to create an advisory group as it makes us more responsive. We are able to quickly shape and adapt activities and resources so that they are relevant for people with mental health problems, including those who are potentially shielded and isolated.

How has involving people with lived experience benefitted your work?

The PAAG makes sure that our work is rooted in the real-life experiences of people engaging, or trying to engage, in physical activity at a grassroots level. The advisory group provided feedback into a new strategy we are developing. Members also look over initiatives that our partners in the sport and physical activity sector may be planning, so that they are more inclusive and effective in supporting people with mental health problems to be active.

They help us to understand how we can improve their experience as members of the advisory group, and identify the types of influence and participation opportunities both within and between meetings that meet their interests.

PAAG member Ellie also wrote a blog post for the Activity Alliance which you can read here.

What have you learnt? 

It can be tempting to arrange meetings with lots of content as we only meet three times a year. We have learnt that this can be quite overwhelming and tiring, so we have adopted a ‘less is more’ approach with less reliance on Microsoft PowerPoint and more emphasis on interactivity. We have also learnt that some people may not feel confident to share their opinions in a larger group, so we send members any key questions we will be exploring in the meeting at least a week in advance so they have time to prepare.

When meeting in person, we have agreed that all meetings will take place at a venue which is a short walk from Euston station. This is because some members who live outside of London found travelling across London quite difficult and stressful. Our group told us that they were more comfortable meeting in a more central London location than moving the meeting around the country.

When meeting online, our group prefers to have one and a half hour sessions instead of our usual half a day meeting. We email updates in advance to save time at the start of the meeting.

"It was good to start to learn more about people’s experiences and also what they have been up to in the 4 months since we last met! I’m a lot more involved with stuff at a local level now so there is a lot of stuff I’m taking back home from that meeting for sure!"

How did the activity benefit those involved?

Members can get involved in a wide range of opportunities such as hosting webinars and reviewing resources and are able to work outside our meetings. We offer everyone an engagement fee.

The advisory group provides the opportunity for group members to develop their experience within the sport and physical activity sector and take part in projects and activities they would not normally be involved with. One member is a mental health champion at their local running club and has benefited from our partnership with England Athletics to explore further resources for her club. Another member has taken part in a volunteering day at their local football club as part of Mind’s On Your Side partnership with the EFL.

What support did you offer?

When meeting in person, we organise members’ travel arrangements on their behalf. We always ensure that there is a quiet area so people can take some time out if needed and most of the Physical Activity team is Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trained.

When meeting online, we provide everyone with very clear guidance about the platform we’ll be working with (e.g. instructions on how to log in and what different buttons mean.) We decide our online ground rules together (e.g. if you want to speak, use the “raise hand” function and put yourself on mute when not speaking.) Someone is always available to help with any technical problems whilst the facilitator runs the meeting, and contact details for Mind’s IT team are provided in advance.

Most importantly, we strive to create a relationship of mutual support and peer learning where everyone’s opinion is equal and we are just as interested in supporting members to develop their skills and meet their aspirations as we are interested in gaining their insight, experience and knowledge to shape our work.

Top Tips

  • If you have time, organise an orientation day, which is about bringing the group together to meet each other and learning everyone’s motivations for joining. Agree ways of working and communicating so everyone is aware of each member’s preferences.
  • Provide the opportunity for people to complete a Wellbeing Action Plan, so your team are more aware of how you can better support each member.
  • If you are comfortable sharing your own lived experience, then go for it. It can help to break down barriers and increase empathy and trust between everyone in the room. Just be mindful to avoid any language which may potentially be triggering.
  • Keep it fun! Members may be travelling some distance to attend the meeting, so you want them to have an enjoyable experience. There is nothing wrong including a LOL Cat picture or two.
  • In summary: treat other people as you wish to be treated!
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