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Andrew’s mental health journey

I’ll start with my passion for rugby, which is much more than playing on a pitch...For me, it’s always been my way of meeting new people and there’s a strong sense of community and camaraderie. You can be beating someone on the pitch one minute and enjoying a pint with them in the clubhouse the next! Whatever day I’ve had, for that one hour a week when   I’m on the pitch, I am just focused on the game and enjoying the moment, very mindful!

Throughout my life I have always played rugby, but in my 30s I developed ankylosing spondylitis - a form of rheumatoid arthritis - and had to stop playing rugby almost overnight. Whilst the condition is now largely under control, I have since had two new hips and a new right knee, so it’s had a huge impact on my life.

Looking back, I wasn’t in a great place with my mental health. I was working long hours to establish my career, trying to build a career as a lawyer and reward consultant at the time my body was breaking down, physically and mentally.

That’s why, in 2017, I decided to set up a touch rugby team called ‘Yogits’, as I really missed both the active nature of rugby and camaraderie of team sport. My body wasn’t what it used to be, so touch rugby was the obvious substitute and a way to offer others like me an opportunity to reconnect weekly, gaining from the physical and mental benefits of sport.

I think men are generally more reserved with their feelings and having something active to do gives an outlet and reason to talk to others. So, whilst it’s a great impact on physical wellbeing, one of the most important impacts Yogits has had is on peoples’ mental health, by providing an active forum of connection.

The Yogits knew that connectivity was especially important during lockdowns. During Covid lockdowns, we did a lot virtually to maintain engagement and keep building the community. We raised money to fund mental health first aider training, to go into rugby clubs and provide that support to people. We set a Six Nations Challenge, and between us covered the equivalent distance between Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris and Rome, through any form of movement, from mowing the lawn to cycling or running. We raised over £5,000 for mental health charity Mind Ystradgynlais (part of the Mind Mental health charity network)), and this then led to feature on Countryfile.

After getting involved with Mind, I joined their Board and I’ve now taken on the role of Chair of Trustees, which I do in my spare time. I also use my self-organised volunteering hours that the firm gives us all. Our How we work framework really helps with this; where I can, I will work a condensed fortnight and take a day to focus on my trustee work. That’s one of the great things about the firm - there’s an understanding that people have lives outside of work.

I want to be the best I can be at work, but I also want to be the best father and husband and give the time for charity and to my Yogits. Having the freedom to focus on the areas outside of work that give me energy means I can be the best me at work too.

Skills I’ve developed through my career have helped me in both setting up the touch rugby club and in my charity work, especially in communication. It’s great to use the skills I’ve developed through my career to give back to the local community and those in need.

Pursuing my personal interests helps in my ‘day job’ too - I’m a better and happier person at work for it. It’s helped my skills as a people manager, and I now have more empathy and understanding of others’ situations. Everyone is on their own journey and it’s important to take the time to understand that. My activities outside of work also help me with clients; it’s a real conversation starter and opens doors to some great opportunities.

‘Yogits’ is one of the things I am most proud of in my life. When you have people’s partners thanking you and saying that they are a much happier person because of it, you realise the impact you’ve made.

What started as eight of us getting together weekly has evolved to 80 people on our regulars list. It’s not just our club either – taking inspiration from the Yogit idea, there are now over 25 clubs with 800- 1,000 players in South Wales who have an avenue to continue playing a sport they love (or start it anew), which they didn’t have previously – and that really is amazing.



09 May 2024 at 10:36 AM

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