Football for mental health
Minds United started with seven people, some balls and a whistle. Now they're playing in European mental health tournaments and helping Hammersmith people turn their lives around.
CEO Tarik Kaidi shares the Minds United journey:
“I’m not going to lie: when I was sectioned 10 years ago, it was a bit mad. I’d never had a mental health problem before. It just came out of nowhere. I didn’t have a good experience in the hospital, and became homeless after I was discharged. I eventually found a home in north Hammersmith in 2016.
Playing football really helped my recovery; I also took my FA Level 1 coaching course, funded by Fulham FC Foundation. There’s just something about playing the beautiful game in your own community. It’s a great way to socialise, it releases endorphins and makes you feel good – and playing as a team builds all sorts of other skills too.
I just couldn’t get this vision out of my mind. I wanted to start a football club to improve mental health. I didn’t have any funding – just a big dream and a big idea.
So in 2019 I started a Saturday club for people recovering from substance abuse, seven people to start with. And just me, with a bag of footballs, bibs, cones and a whistle. It was a hard surface pitch in North Kensington. Pretty brutal if you slipped and fell.
Then we got our first grant: £300 from the London Football Association. That helped us set up our first mental health ‘turn up and play’ sessions. These casual, small-sided games are all about lots of touches on the ball and plenty of exercise. They’re also a great opportunity for people to socialise and share experiences about mental health.
When we first entered the mental health league, we got absolutely battered. But we got more funding near the end of 2019 which was a real turning point: we got a minibus so I could drive the team to league fixtures. That meant more players, and then we started winning! We were invited to other leagues, and became a Football Association accredited club.
A big opportunity came when I had the chance to bid for funding from the Grenfell Projects Fund. I’d expected that it would be done online, but at the last minute I had to go in and speak in front of 150 people. I wasn’t feeling confident at all. There was me – big beard, a cast on my arm, hat on, bad hair… But I went in there and did it. And I got the highest vote!
That was a real dream fulfilled. We were finally able to play on a nice astroturf pitch with padding, so we could tackle properly and our goalies could dive without too much damage. It was a bit more central so people started noticing us as they walked past and would come and join us.
Kicking off for community
After that we set up as a community interest company, and it became about much more than football.
Our community football programme is now going from strength to strength – our mental health ‘turn up and play’ football sessions are now available for young people, men, women and mixed. We also have small-sided teams in mental health and community leagues.
One of our team, Joseph, is a chef, and after our Wednesday sessions he cooks Caribbean food which everyone enjoys: he does lovely meals and buss up shut (Trinidadian rotis). Joseph also provided the catering at our 4th annual awards ceremony last month.
We’ve also started helping people access Football Association qualifications in refereeing, coaching, safeguarding and first aid, which broadens employment opportunities.
We also now have a clubhouse which is open throughout the week: people can come to just chat, colour, play pool, Xbox, whatever. It’s a safe place where people can express themselves and feel they belong, whatever they’re into – no pressure.
We recently received a donation from the Stewart family along with a grant from Hammersmith United Charities. This has had a great impact because it’s allowed us to employ two women from north Hammersmith who were previously in volunteer positions. They run the women’s only football session, and also the tea and chat session in the clubhouse each week where people can get together.
One of these people, Myra, joined Minds United a few years ago. She was drinking really heavily at the time. She was very nervous coming along, but she had a go at goalkeeping. She said that she loved everyone instantly, and felt supported to get out of the rut of drinking – she says that being part of the club has changed her life. Being on hand to share her experiences has also helped other people going through the same thing.
A big moment for me was going back to the hospital years after I was sectioned there. It felt strange. But this time I was there to offer them a free service to help in-patients join the Minds United community. So now, people who have been sectioned are allowed to come along on escorted leave with a nurse and play football with us. I think it speeds up their recovery. It’s something I would have loved at the time: there are so many other forms of therapy, apart from medicine.
What we’ve found is that, so far, anyone who’s regularly engaged with Minds United has never been sectioned again.
And me? Running this organisation, as stressful as it can be at times: it gives me real focus and purpose. And we’ve come so far! Now we go to Italy every year to play in the mental health football tournament. We’ve won it the last two years. Little old Minds United!”
Find out more
- Minds United have been supported by a donation from the Stewart family and a grant from Hammersmith United Charities. Find out more here: ‘Lasting legacy for John’
- If you’re experiencing mental health issues and would enjoy a cup of tea and a chat, play pool table, table tennis or other games, you can drop in to the Minds United Clubhouse between 12-3pm Monday to Thursday (opposite Tesco West Kensington). Find out more about the Clubhouse here
- Minds United is looking for volunteers to join their free FA coaching course: for more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
- Find out more about Hammersmith United Charities’s grants programme. Our next grant application deadline is 18 January 2024.