Mental health support has been a staple feature of many an SU officer campaign recently and it is easy to pledge narrow solutions. The University Counselling Service, the SAMHS triage system and personal tutors are often mentioned in this discussion, but Forge Sport is exploring a different route to mental wellbeing: through sport.

A cornerstone of the University for four years, the Social Sport programme has gone from strength to strength in offering affordable, fun and friendly activities. As Social Sport Officer and co-founder Martin Cook highlights: “the programme overcomes any potential barriers such as memberships, long term commitment and the fear of not being good enough”.

Women’s Boxing Fitness is just one of the 57 different sessions on offer throughout the week, ranging from wheelchair basketball to sabre-lite fencing. Free to Residence Life members (£2 for everyone else), women combine punching techniques with strength and cardio exercises, such as AB Circuits. Amy Le and Ike Olagunju, first year Computer Science students, went along for the first time last week, attracted by the fun, friendly and flexible atmosphere.

Social squash is a popular part of the weekly programme (picture: Ewan Somerville)

As Olagunju put it: “It’s good to go and do sport together in a group, and it’s free. The gym at Goodwin is too expensive for me, and when you add up all the other stuff as well for societies it all adds up.

“It’s also less intimidating. I was part of the Girls Rugby but it was really intense and I just didn’t want to be competitive in the sport.”

Arywan Bassi, a final year Law student and coach, said: “I think it’s so unique, and it’s the best thing for stress. I go running, I go to the gym and I don’t get anything that’s the same for stress.”

Fellow coach Carys O’Shea added: “A run’s not the same as a punch”.

Leigh Howarth, 31, and Kheerrul Fizal Zaidil, 30, are both researchers at the university (picture: Ewan Somerville)

Social squash, held on Mondays and Wednesday afternoons at Goodwin Sports Centre, is another popular session at £2 for 80 minutes. Researcher Kheerrul Fizal Zaidil, who attends most weeks, said: “I think I’ve fallen in love with squash – I’m addicted. It builds my confidence and I get to build different types of strengths. I’m very fortunate to join this Social Sport.”

Women’s Football is also a popular and pioneering fixture in the weekly Social Sport calendar. Coach Beth Knight, a third-year Chemistry student, was delighted at the girls being really involved and engaged: “They always just play with a smile on their face so it’s very rewarding.”

Women’s Football coach an Chemistry student Beth Knight (picture: Ewan Somerville)

Olivia O’Callaghan, a third-year Biology student, loves the opportunity to play on a Friday afternoon and added: “It makes me feel a lot better. It’s really inclusive because I feel like in some of the sport teams it can seem more cliquey, but everyone’s so friendly here it’s really nice.

“Especially because there aren’t many lectures on at the moment it gets you outside instead of sat studying at home all day.”

Social Sports Officer Cook is keen to emphasise the evident benefits of Social Sport for mental health. He commented: “Studies have shown sport to be an excellent tool for tackling mental health. It can be a great stress relief, improve health and meet new people and Social Sport helps to tick all these boxes.

“University can be busy and stressful and therefore it is very important for students to have some form of release, and our activities can be a great way to maintain and improve mental health and wellbeing.”

Would you like to get involved with Social Sport? It’s easy just head to this website or speak to any member of staff at Goodwin Sports Centre reception.

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