World Health Day: College initiatives promote mental wellbeing through sport and physical activity

World Health Day is an awareness initiative started by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and this year focuses on the topic of depression.

With research proving strong links between sport and physical activity, and mental wellbeing, it is fitting for AoC Sport to support World Health Day and help raise awareness.

Futher education and sixth form colleges throughout the country are doing fantastic work in this area, so we have collated a number of small case studies, from which your college may be able to take ideas or inspiration.

Blackpool and the Fylde College

In partnership with Lancashire MIND and Sport Blackpool, Blackpool and the Fylde College delivered a project that utilises running as a tool to support individuals with stress, anxiety and depression. Eleven students were trained as Leaders in Run Fitness and support the delivery of walk-to jog-to run groups both in the community and at college. The leaders have received mentoring from Paralympic athlete Shelly Woods as part of their training and the college is working with Sport Blackpool to establish a local ParkRun which provides an exit route to participants.

City College Norwich

During the summer holidays the College Sports Maker at City College Norwich trialled a project with students that had been identified as being at risk of becoming NEET because of their anxiety. All of the students involved in the project attended throughout and progressed onto a college course or apprenticeship in September.

Cornwall College

The counselling service at Cornwall College identifies students that would benefit from exercise to help manage their mental health conditions. These students are then offered six weeks of gym and swimming memberships.

Hartpury College

The wellbeing centre and the College Sports Maker at Hartpury College have worked together to organise a weekly walk around the campus. The walks take place with dogs that belong to staff members who either live on site or bring their dogs in to visit the college’s grooming facility. Anyone that attends the college is welcome but students that suffer from depression and/or anxiety are signposted to the sessions to help with their mental health conditions.

Lancashire Colleges

In partnership with eight colleges, Lancashire Sport coordinated the “Health Minds, Healthy Bodies” project. The project aimed to bring together a number of key partners to teach young people about the positive impacts that physical activity can have on mental wellbeing. Sport and physical activity sessions, including archery, kickboxing, Zumba and yoga, were offered to relieve stress during exam periods. Students were also provided with literature based on maintaining positive mental wellbeing.

South Gloucestershire and Stroud College

In partnership with their County Sports Partnership, SGS delivered a ten-week pilot for students with mental health conditions. The project provided the college with a support mechanism other than counselling to help students with their conditions in an informal environment. Students benefitted from the opportunity to meet others going through similar problems while being physically active. 28 students participated in boxing and yoga sessions and were referred by mentors. SGS have also recently launched a new staff ActiFit programme to try and reduce staff sickness and stress related conditions.


On World Mental Health Day in October, NewVic participated in the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Tea and Talk’ campaign. In a central area of the college there were refreshments, information and the opportunity for students to talk about mental health. The college sports department supported this by providing some activities including boxing pads and skipping to make the link between physical activity and mental health.

South Downs College

The Positive Active Wellbeing (PAW) project has been designed by the College Sports Maker and the Health and Wellbeing Centre at South Downs College, with support from senior leadership. They identified that a high proportion of students who had declared a mental health condition were from early years and health and social care courses, and so targeted these groups for the project. Students are encouraged to engage in physical activity as an alternative approach to support those with a range of conditions. The aim is to improve students’ ability to cope with struggles and issues of everyday home and college life. An introductory video is shown during tutorial time about physical activity and mental health and students are issued with participation log cards, while a prize is awarded to the tutor who encourages the most activity.

Tyne Met College

Tyne Metropolitan College are participating in a pilot mental health project with AoC Sport and the charity StreetGames. This project involves a range of programmes for both FE and HE students to measure the impact of sport and activity on their mental wellbeing. The Mental Well-being Impact Assessment (MWIA) tool is used to assess and evaluate the project to ensure it has a maximum equitable impact on people’s mental wellbeing. The target groups for the project are:

  • Inactive females
  • Students with behavioural issues that may be at risk of leaving college
  • Students suffering with mental health conditions that are referred by the counselling service
  • Disabled students