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Sport Wellbeing Hub will be crucial to protect mental health, says McKeown



Fast track: Antoinette McKeown says Hub has been
launched early

Fast track: Antoinette McKeown says Hub has been launched early

Fast track: Antoinette McKeown says Hub has been launched early

Antoinette McKeown says the launch of a Sport Wellbeing Hub has been fast tracked because of the increasing issues that Covid-19 is having on mental health in Northern Ireland.

The Sport NI chief executive explained that the organisation wanted to make the Wellbeing Hub "a first line of information and support to people who aren't able to engage in sport at the moment" due to the lockdown being in place.

Developed with the mental health charity Inspire, this Sport NI initiative, in partnership with the Public Health Agency (PHA), has backing from some high-profile names including ex-Arsenal and England skipper Tony Adams, Ballymena manager David Jeffrey, former Armagh GAA star Oisin McConville, Olympic boxing hero Paddy Barnes and athlete Ciara Mageean.

"Sport NI has fast tracked the launch of the Sport Wellbeing Hub because we recognised that as people continue on lockdown, mental health was going to be severely impacted," said McKeown.

"We wanted to make sure that we had help going across sports. The Wellbeing Hub gives instant access to a range of information and guidance that is tailored specifically to care for an individual's wellbeing.

"We have had huge feedback already from right across sport to say it is a fantastic tool."

Mental health has been a major issue in Northern Ireland for years. McKeown added: "We have been working on this for some time and knew it was needed but didn't realise that Covid-19 would push us to get it out earlier but I'm glad we have.

"We know sport was amongst the first hit and hardest hit because major events and training, especially for team sports, have been postponed.

"If you live for your sport and organise your life around it and suddenly that is removed, all of the structure in your daily activity is also removed. For many young men and women, sport is a really positive aspect of their lives for their identity, self-esteem and confidence so it is only natural if you take that away from them without any warning that it will have a huge mental impact."

Sport NI's chief executive also spoke about the funding that has been released to sporting clubs and organisations with scores struggling financially because of the coronavirus.

"We have taken a phased approach to Covid-19 to support the sector. We started by getting £2.4m of lottery funding out as quickly as we possibly could. That was pre-committed money but in terms of cash-flow we got that funding out the earliest ever despite working remotely. We knew our clubs and governing bodies were relying on it," said McKeown.

"We worked then with the Department for Communities to get a hardship fund out. We were inundated which reflects the state of the sector. We have a really strong sports sector in Northern Ireland but it is not very resilient. Not many clubs have many reserves built up for example.

"On top of the £500,000 the Department put into it, Sport NI found an additional £250,000 from our budget this year.

"We are currently looking at a phase three approach to strengthen and build resilience in the sector. It's not just about money. We want to come out of this with a much stronger sports system than what we went into it with."

McKeown added that the government's furlough scheme, being used by some sports clubs here, was "really helpful". She also welcomed the Department of Economy extending its £25,000 grant to include some sports clubs. There is now a major push for the same Department's £10,000 grant for small businesses to be made available to sports clubs.

Belfast Telegraph