Rivalries have been put aside as rugby clubs across Cumbria come together to support the Yewdale mental health ward at West Cumberland Hospital.
On Saturday 11th July, weather permitting, players will be tackling five fells with the aim of raising £10,000 for the ward.
Yewdale Ward is an acute mental health inpatient unit based at West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven. It is run by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, a leading provider of mental health and learning disability services across the north of England. The ward treats men and women with severe mental health problems who require a stay in hospital.
Walkers taking part in the challenge will include players from every Cumbria Amateur Rugby League club, as well as professional Workington and Whitehaven Rugby League and Whitehaven and St Benedict’s Rugby Union teams. Several teams have donated signed shirts to be auctioned to raise extra funds.
They will be joined by members of the local Referees Society, the national Rugby Football League, and State of Mind, a registered charity established in 2011 with the aim of improving the mental health, wellbeing and working life of rugby league players and communities.
Organisers Ryan Dodgson of Frizington and Gary Hewer of Distington reached out to the local rugby community after successfully raising money to aid local responses to COVID-19, and awareness for mental health issues through other recent challenges including Gary’s 25-day push-up challenge which spread across social media.
Gary explained, “We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world with the Lake District on our doorsteps, filled with some challenging walks. It’s only fitting we maximise this opportunity to do some good, especially as mental health services are going to be more important than ever after the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The challenge’s route will take in five Wainwrights (fells over 1,000 feet high) north of Keswick: Dodd, Carl Side, Long Side, Ullock Pike and Skiddaw.
Ryan said, “It’s amazing how the rugby family pulls together through hard times. The work the staff do on Yewdale Ward is tremendous, so we would love nothing more than to raise heaps of money for this great service.”
The idea to raise funds for Yewdale Ward in particular came from Copeland Councillor and Health and Wellbeing Champion Carl ‘Wammo’ Walmsley. Carl explained, “I’ve long had a passion for mental health, especially since I discovered that suicide rates on the West Coast of Cumbria are 50% higher than the average for England.
“The mental health wards in this area don’t get spoken about much, but I’ve seen the amazing and difficult work those staff do, so when Ryan and Gary asked me where money should go I thought of Yewdale straight away.”
Paula McDonald, Yewdale’s Ward Manager, said: “We are overwhelmed that the rugby community have decided to donate so generously to our ward.
“All the money raised will be used to kick-start a project we’ve wanted to do for a while, to give our ward’s outside space a makeover. The courtyard is safe but dreary, and it could be utilised for so much more. We want to make it a bright, colourful, therapeutic space for our patients and carers to enjoy, and perhaps even offer outdoor activities such as bowling and gardening.
“For some of our patients our courtyard is the only place to get some fresh air and sun during their recovery. During the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ many of us have realised just how important even the smallest bit of outdoor space can be for our mental health and wellbeing, so we want to use this opportunity to improve this space to benefit to those who need it the most, our patients and their carers.
“We are so grateful for the support the local rugby community are showing towards their local NHS mental health services, in particular Ryan and Gary who are doing a fantastic job to organise this event in such difficult circumstances. We would like to thank everyone involved; you are all amazing!”
The players will be setting off in teams of four to six people, keeping at least 2 metres apart at all times, to comply with the government’s current social distancing guidance. Every effort is being made to ensure the challenge is undertaken safely and responsibly, in light of current pressures on the healthcare system and Mountain Rescue teams. Each team of walkers will include a trained first aider, and the route has been carefully planned by local Physical Training Instructor and outdoor enthusiast Zoe Winter.
The money raised will be donated to the ward via CNTW’s registered charity The SHINE Fund, which uses funds to provide the ‘little extras’ that make a big difference to people’s recovery. The money raised through the walking challenge will be ring-fenced for use by Yewdale Ward on their chosen project.
People can donate to the fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/f/west-cumbria-mental-health-sponsored-walk.