Features | 17 May 2024

How LooseHeadz and Vodafone are tackling mental health stigma

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 is ‘movement’, so what better time to sit down with Rob Shotton, co-founder of Vodafone charity partner LooseHeadz, to discuss how the two organisations have been working together to tackle the stigma of mental health in sport?

Mates sharing experiences of “life wobbles” with each other at their local rugby club bar led Rob Shotton and Dave Nicoll to create LooseHeadz in 2017.

Now, roughly seven years on, the rugby-based mental health charity continues to pursue its worthy mission of placing a mental health lead into every rugby club around the world.

Vodafone joined the journey in 2023, becoming the charity’s Official Connectivity Partner. At that time, LooseHeadz had already engaged between 700-800 rugby clubs, as it fought to tackle the stigma around mental health discussions in and out of the changing room.

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Partnership sees Vodafone become the Founding Principal Partner of women and girls’ rugby in Wales, as well as a Digital Transformation Partner of Principality Stadium, Cardiff.

“Getting Vodafone on board as a partner has been one of the biggest things that’s happened to LooseHeadz,” says Rob. “Everyone knows who Vodafone is, so to have an organisation like them supporting you has been really cool.”

Today, the charity works with 1,150 rugby clubs across 28 different countries, with Vodafone providing free SIM cards to UK-based mental health leads as part of its everyone.connected initiative. As a result, they can stay connected to club members when it’s needed most.

But despite impressive partnerships, ambassadors such as Manu Tuilagi, and events featuring the likes of Welsh Rugby Union Women’s players Hannah Jones and Ffion Lewis, the pair aren’t content to rest on their laurels.

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“Where we’ve seen the greatest impact and success,” continues Rob, “is when we’ve actually gone out and delivered workshops or sessions. So, what we want to do now is get more boots on the ground, get out into rugby clubs to see people face-to-face, and really educate them around mental health and sports.”

With the level of support provided by Vodafone and others, LooseHeadz is able to translate these ambitions into actions, helping individuals at rugby clubs up and down the nation.

The joint ‘Connecting through Rugby’ campaign epitomises this, with LooseHeadz and Vodafone visiting women’s clubs such as:

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Vodafone’s multi-year partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union now includes two new teams.

It’s not just the UK where the charity is having an impact, however, as Rob explains: “What’s also important is that we can build this network of mental health leads around the world, so that they can share what works or might not work. So, for example, someone in Chester Rugby Club in the northwest of England could talk to El Paso Rugby Club in Texas to share best practice.”

And, of course, improving people’s mental health remains at the heart of this work. For good reason too, given that one in four adults will experience at least one diagnosable mental health issue in any given year, according to the NHS.

“The third ambition is the big, scary one, but it’s probably the most important to support,” concludes Rob, “as what we want to do is build out a gold standard clinical support service for the rugby community. If we can roll that out, it would be the first of its kind anywhere in the grassroots sport around the world.”

Thankfully, ambitious targets are something that LooseHeadz has never shied away from.

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