Covid-19 response: West Ham, Arsenal and Leyton Orient partner on pioneering Advantage programme to help young people

PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 October 2020

A view of an empty Emirates Stadium

A view of an empty Emirates Stadium

PA Archive/PA Images

A new mental health improvement scheme for young people, called Advantage, is set to launch this month, driven by the NHS North East London cluster of football foundations consisting of West Ham United, Arsenal and Leyton Orient.

A general view of match action during the Premier League match at the London Stadium.A general view of match action during the Premier League match at the London Stadium.

Football clubs across London are coming together under the umbrella of London United to tackle some of the key issues resulting from COVID-19.

With increasing evidence that mental health problems are one of the main consequences of the ongoing pandemic, the three clubs are working with NHS specialists to develop coordinated support for young people to improve their self-esteem, create a better sense of connection and provide opportunities to get back on track.

The Advantage programme will focus on improving education, employment options and physical activity, to help the youngsters with the transition from lockdown to a ‘new normal’ in a more uncertain world.

The clubs have partnered with the Apax Foundation and the Royal Free Charity, working alongside the East London NHS Foundation Trust and the North East London NHS Foundation Trust on the initiative.

A view of the Breyer Group Stadium, home to Leyton Orient.A view of the Breyer Group Stadium, home to Leyton Orient.

NHS and the power of football:

Over the course of 2020, an array of initiatives have been delivered by football clubs in London to help communities deal with the COVID-19 pandemic; from mentoring and volunteering schemes and online physical activity initiatives to supportive phone calls, early intervention work and long-term pledges to local NHS Trusts.

Now, football clubs – an integral part of their local communities – are at the core of the Advantage scheme, providing professional help in a less formal, trusted and recognised setting.

Speaking on the importance of the initiative, West Ham United Foundation CEO Joseph Lyons said: “At West Ham we are committed to delivering real value in the community and this programme is another fantastic example of that. We’re incredibly proud of our work to tackle the immediate impact of COVID-19, but we are here for the long-term, responding to local need in ways which will have a lasting impact.

“The pandemic has created an increase in mental health problems, while demand on the NHS is also increasing. Therefore, working with NHS experts and led by the need they are seeing, we have an opportunity to intervene through this Advantage programme; giving regular, direct and bespoke help for young people to overcome the health and social issues they are facing so that they can thrive again.”

Neil Taylor, Leyton Orient CEO, added: “We are really excited about being involved with this programme as we see it contributing greatly to the lives of young people in our area who, especially at the moment, are struggling to establish a sense of self and a meaningful role in our diverse communities.

“The aim through this programme is to help them find out who they are and give them a sense of purpose and belonging by engaging and building relationships with our staff and participants on our projects in Waltham Forest.”

Freddie Hudson, Community Manager at Arsenal in the Community, said: “Mental health issues are a very serious consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many young people have had their lives negatively impacted in recent months and we are proud to be able to use our reach to engage young people and provide them with the support they need.

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“It’s critical that we provide our community with a safe place to talk and seek advice, and the Advantage programme will do exactly that. Once young people feel comfortable and become engaged in the programe, we can then help them build confidence and support them in their next steps. Along with West Ham and Leyton Orient, we’re proud to build on the work we’ve done throughout the pandemic through this fantastic programme.”


Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Nick Barnes, has helped to shape the programme recognising significant local need from his role within Newham Child and Mental Health Services (CAMHS), stating: “Due to the pandemic, there are a group of people emerging now, who are very anxious, feeling stuck and not knowing how to move forward.

“Evidence has shown us that there’s a gap amongst 14 to 21-year-olds who are transitioning to adulthood, which is hugely interrupted due to COVID-19.

“This programme is a way to help them find a way forward.”

Young People are referred to the local CAMHS within East London NHS Foundation Trust (Newham and Hackney) or North East London NHS Foundation Trust (Waltham Forest) from school, youth clubs or their GP doctor, and those assessed with mild to moderate mental health need, which has been brought about or worsened because of the COVID pandemic, will be invited to join the programme.

From there they are matched with one of the football clubs’ community foundations; Newham – West Ham, Hackney – Arsenal, Waltham Forest – Leyton Orient.

At this point the individual receives an initial consultation with a support coach followed by training and mentoring and is subsequently entered into a selected scheme which matches their goals, whether it’s on or off the pitch – receiving consistent support throughout.

West Ham have recruited a Youth Worker Project Coordinator who will work alongside their Health Manager; providing assistance across Arsenal and Leyton Orient, connecting with the CAMHS specialists and ensuring that outcomes are being met.

In order to maintain a person-focused approach, initially there will be 30 people taking part with more spaces available as the programme progresses.

Future Focus:

The 14 football clubs that form London United are partnering across five NHS London Trust clusters to drive physical and mental health schemes and while West Ham, Arsenal and Leyton Orient are leading the way with the first major initiative, others are expected to be underway within the next few months.

Steven Dyson, founder and chair of the Advantage steering group, believes sport can play a powerful role in supporting young people and helping them to raise their aspirations during these challenging times, saying: “The Advantage programme is an excellent example of community collaboration in North East London between three local football clubs, the local NHS and local community stakeholders.

“Making life skills coaching available through the local football clubs will provide a real lifeline and opportunity.

“We have built this model to be transferable so there’s potential for it to grow into other communities in the future.”

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