AN innovative new scheme being piloted across west Northumberland, which aims to help people with mental health issues to become physically active, is looking for volunteers to act as support buddies.

The Being Active Matters scheme is looking for people across Northumberland who could extend a hand of friendship and buddy someone who wants to become more physically active in order to improve their mental wellbeing.

Project champion Gordon Allan, whose wife Sally took her own life on Boxing Day 2015, was responsible for the concept and has brought the partners and funding together.

He’s now encouraging volunteers to offer their support to scheme members in everything from walking, running, visits to the gym, a game of golf or even just a kick around with a football.

“We know sport and exercise can have a really positive effect on mental as well as physical health.

“However, that first step to becoming physically active can often be daunting, particularly for individuals who may be anxious and lacking in self confidence,” said Gordon, from Ponteland.

“We are recruiting volunteers to support individuals on a one-to-one basis to identify an activity that is right for them and assist them to overcome any barriers to participation. If you have an activity that you would like to share with someone else, we’d really love to hear from you.”

Volunteers can give as much or as little time as they wish to an activity of their choice and training will be provided.

The project is being piloted in north and west Northumberland and two members of staff have just been employed to co-ordinate the volunteers for the project – one based in Hexham and the other in Alnwick.

Being Active Matters has received £142,000 funding from Sport England and £30,000 from Northumberland County Council, with further support coming from Hexham and Alnwick Town Councils.

Project partners Active Northumberland, the organisation that delivers leisure services on behalf of the county council, is now working with Talking Matters, which provides the NHS-funded talking therapy service, to identify what opportunities are available for individuals in their local community.

Hexham’s Coun. Cath Homer, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure at Northumberland County Council, said: “As mental health awareness grows, we know that the benefits of sport and exercise are not just physical.

“Regular physical activity is great for the mind and our mental health. It can improve mood, lift self-esteem and reduce stress.

“Active Northumberland is undertaking some really pioneering work to improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of local residents and supporting this programme is another great example of this work.”

Steve Patterson, manager of Talking Matters Northumberland, said: “For anyone coping with mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, taking up a new sport or getting back into the swing of being physically active can be really daunting.

“Many people just need some extra confidence and motivation to take part in an activity, and this project will create a ‘buddy scheme’ where our volunteers will be matched to someone who needs that extra bit of support.

“It will also invite sports clubs and organisations to learn how they, as a club, can be more supportive and welcoming to people who struggle with their mental health.”