HLN Meets: Ashley Lowe, Health and Wellbeing Manager for the Newcastle United Foundation
Having just returned to work following maternity leave in lockdown, Ashley is throwing herself back into the Foundation’s #BeAGameChanger campaign – encouraging Newcastle United fans to talk more openly about mental health.
By Lucy Nichol
Congratulations on the birth of your first child! How has maternity leave been for you during lockdown?
Thank you! He’s almost one now, I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone. It wasn’t quite the maternity leave I had anticipated, as we went into lockdown when he was about 3 weeks old. Luckily we did get to go to a few classes and take him swimming when restrictions had lifted in the summer, but for the most part, I spent my maternity leave pushing the pram for miles with a takeaway coffee!
The Newcastle United Foundation works closely with the club, but it has its own structure, team and priorities. Can you tell us about the aims of the Foundation?
The Foundation is the charitable arm of Newcastle United. We work with over 66,000 people each year, from children to adults, using the local passion for football to encourage learning, support employability and promote healthy lifestyles that will make a real difference to the lives of the people in our region.
What is the #BeAGameChanger campaign all about?
The #BeAGameChanger campaign was launched in 2019 to encourage football fans in our city to talk openly about mental health, to look out for their loved ones and to be proactive in looking after their own wellbeing. Unfortunately, the North East has one of the highest suicide rates in the country and, in the UK, 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem. We use the power of football to reach out to fans and to encourage them to take the first step in speaking up about their mental health, in the hope we can reduce some of these shocking statistics.
You were initially focusing on getting more men to talk about mental health, but you’ve now rolled out campaign activity which is targeted more towards women. What influenced that change?
The campaign has always been inclusive to all football fans, but initially, our primary target audience was men. The reason behind this was that we know suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and we know that a large proportion of the football community is men. We launched the campaign with the slogan: ‘telling someone to man up can result in a man down’, which was a way to start the conversation about men’s mental health and the stigma that is still associated with men opening up.
Due to the success of the campaign over the past two years, we’ve recently secured further funding to expand the reach and we plan to do this by ensuring more female fans are engaging with the campaign. After all, we all have mental health, we all struggle and it’s not just men who like football!
How is #BeAGameChanger different to other mental health campaigns, such as Time to Change, for example?
The #BeAGameChanger campaign is a local campaign for NUFC fans – this means our branding, our messages and the content we put out is all tailored to an NUFC audience. Before we launched the campaign, we ran focus groups with around 70 fans to get their thoughts on national campaigns. We found that although some would engage with a campaign from Time to Change or the NHS, others wouldn’t even look twice as they wouldn’t think the campaign was meant for them. When you put football and NUFC onto the branding, these fans will look twice as they know the content is for them. This means we can reach audiences who may have never engaged with a mental health campaign before and this is where we can make a real difference to our community.
How do you manage your own mental health? And what has been a particular challenge for you during the course of the pandemic?
The top things that help me are:
1. Being organised and having a routine. Working from home with a baby is challenging to say the least, so making sure my day is scheduled helps me to stress a lot less.
2. Getting outside every day. Even if it’s raining, I get out with the pram. I’ve got all the waterproof gear so there are no excuses! It helps to break up the monotony of the day and I truly believe that getting some exercise and fresh air helps your mental health just as much as your physical health.
3. Getting the balance right. If I’ve resorted to drinking wine on a Tuesday, I’m not going to beat myself up about it when we’re in the middle of a pandemic! However, I will try to balance out the bad with the good. So making sure I do a YouTube workout if I haven’t managed too many steps or making sure I eat plenty of fruit and veg alongside the daily chocolate bar!
To find out more about the Newcastle United Foundation’s #BeAGameChanger campaign click here