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(L-R) Ruth Fox – Mental Health Campaigner, Sam Morris – Gold Ambassador & Organiser,
 Neville Southall – Welsh Footballing Legend 

Sam Morris is a Sport Powys Gold Ambassador. During Mental Health Awareness Week in May I met Sam briefly at a partnership event we organised in Llandrindod Wells when he attended with colleagues from Sport Wales

We have promoted the project Sam is involved with in Newtown on our website events calendar and on social media, but I didn’t think too much more until suddenly the World Cup was upon us! It seemed like the perfect opportunity to ask Sam to tell us all about his involvement with this local football initiative promoting good mental health and combating stigma.
Tell us more about your role as a Sport Powys Gold Ambassador

The Gold Ambassador programme is Sport Wales’s scheme, which operates in the whole of Wales, and I was lucky enough to be selected as the Powys Gold Ambassador for North Powys. The role of a Gold Ambassador is to work closely with the school’s Sports Development Officer and come up with ways of increasing physical activity levels in schools. I didn’t have a Sports Development Officer to work with inside college, so as part of my role I did all of my work outside. I helped run school sports events in Welshpool and Newtown, and ran Silver Ambassador Days with Sport Powys. I then had the mental health programme, which was my main scheme when I applied to become a Gold Ambassador.

How long have you been playing football and what impact has it had on your wellbeing?

I played football from a very young age, joining the local Sunday Soccer, until I was playing U16s when I decided to take on a role as a coach. I played the odd game for the college team as well. I believe that football may be a huge impact on my wellbeing, I have always been a healthy lad, haven’t had any physical health issues, which was mainly down to all the football I played. I played across Wales with the Academy team and was always with a group of lads who I got on with very well and still get on with now.

What is the We Wear The Same Shirt project all about?

Physical activity has proven to be one of the most effective methods of helping improve someone’s mental wellbeing, and statistics show that 1 in 4 people in Wales suffer from mental ill health. With this being the case, the FAW Trust and charity Time to Change Wales, used their skills and knowledge to tackle the stigma, which resulted in the We Wear The Same Shirt Programme (WWTSS). Three clubs within Wales – Newport, Wrexham and Newtown – are all part of the WWTSS programme which started in 2015.

It is a scheme which offers individuals who suffer from mental ill health a place to go and take part in physical activity, but also to meet new people and develop important life skills, as well as football skills. Each club provides weekly sessions, which, due to funding, are free to access and sign onto.

200 people are signed onto the programme within the three clubs but the target is to get over 700 people and more clubs involved in the programme across the country so it has easy access for more mental health sufferers.

Who can sign up to the training sessions in Newtown and how do they do it?

People who suffer from mental ill health, people who feel excluded, lonely, these people can all come down to the sessions and join in. As a club, we want to make it easy for people to join, and all you have to do is come down to one of the sessions on a Wednesday night (5:00pm – 6:00pm) meet up with myself and we will sign you on. And that’s it. It’s simple. Us coaches and current participants aren’t here to judge, but to listen and help, which is the whole reason for the programme.

How does taking part in the We Wear The Same Shirt training sessions help people struggling with their mental health?

As previously mentioned, physical activity has proven to be one of the most effective methods of helping improve someone’s mental wellbeing, because it takes them away from their environment, and lets them have one hour of fun, being with people who suffer from the same issues. Also, doing sport and physical activity releases chemicals in the body and makes the participant feel more positive. They forget what’s going on, as all they are focussed on is the session and what they are participating in.

All our sessions involve important life skills such as communication and teamwork. The participants start to connect with each other and form friendships, which is great to see. Then people keep on turning up every week because of these friendships that they made from the session and as a coach, it’s the best type of reward you can get, seeing your sessions make an impact on people’s lives.

There was a We Wear The Same Shirt tournament in Newtown in March this year. How did it go, and are more planned?

The WWTSS tournament in Newtown was a massive success, more than I expected it to be. The tournament was due to be in January but snow cancelled that, which wasn’t good. However, from it being cancelled more people wanted to know about the tournament and more teams entered. On the day we saw 150 participants and 19 teams arrive at Latham Park for a fun, but competitive tournament. The best news was that Wales Goalkeeping Legend, Neville Southall, attended the event and spent time talking with the participants and also staying to help hand out medals and trophies to the players. The day was great, everything ran smoothly, and raised a lot of awareness around the town about the WWTSS programme and the one run in Newtown, which was the whole purpose in the event. As it was a success, I know that the FAW Trust are planning one for later this year and we are likely to make this event annual in Newtown.

Have there been any challenges setting up the project?

There have been some challenges setting up the project in Newtown, but it’s like every project, there are always challenges. I joined the project at the start of 2017, and only two participants were at the project. But from hard work and spreading the word, plus the tournament, one year on we have about 20 participants signed on. We have been able to reach out to more, but now college has finished I will be working closely with mental health charities in Powys, to provide sessions and try to get more participants down to the project. But, it’s looking up for the project in Newtown.

Tell us about some of the most rewarding work you have done so far with the We Wear The Same Shirt project

Everything about the project and the work I have done is rewarding. From starting the programme back in early 2017, with my college tutor, Gareth Watkins and fellow Coach, Dave Rose, everything about the project has been rewarding. From seeing the project go from 2 to 20, within a couple of months, from the team representing Newtown at a number of events, and seeing players go on to better things within the club. One has become a qualified local referee, one has become a coach, and others have gone on to playing local team football, winning awards, like manager’s players. This small project has made a massive difference to all the participants but has also changed me as a person and as a coach that is what is rewarding.

I hear you’re studying Sport at Newtown College. What career do you hope to follow eventually and why?

I have just finished studying Sport at Newtown College, finishing with a triple distinction star. I will soon be studying Football Coaching and Performance at University of South Wales, but the only career work I see myself doing is football related. I have a passion to coach and make a difference and thanks to the college, Newtown FC, Sport Powys and a number of people, including Gareth Watkins and Dave Rose, I will be able to pursue that career.

Which team are you supporting in the 2018 World Cup?

From the start of the World Cup I have always thought that France would be the team to beat, but this year’s World Cup has been very odd and England have a massive chance, but I’m backing France.

Many thanks to Sam for telling us all about the We Wear The Same Shirt programme. If you want to find out more you can contact Owen Durbridge, the Club Secretary at Newtown AFC, by emailing owen.durbridge@sky.com or ringing 07967 979089.