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Rugby community raises £19,000 to help mental health ward revamp outdoor space

The rugby community across Cumbria has come together to raise a staggering £19,000 in support of the Yewdale mental health ward at West Cumberland Hospital.

On Saturday 11th July, more than 125 walkers tackled five fells north of Keswick in socially distanced teams. The organisers originally aimed to raise £10,000 for the ward, but have exceeded all expectations and are on track to double this amount.

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. The funds raised will be used to revamp the ward’s outdoor areas for patients and carers to enjoy.

Walkers taking part in the challenge included players from 17 amateur and professional rugby clubs, and members of the local Referees Society, the national Rugby Football League, NHS staff, 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.

The challenge was organised by Ryan Dodgson and Gary Hewer. 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 take 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 took in five Wainwrights (fells over 1,000 feet high) north of Keswick: Dodd, Carl Side, Long Side, Ullock Pike and Skiddaw.

Ryan added, “It’s amazing how the rugby family pulls together through hard times. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to raise this money but it’ll be well worth it, and we’d like to thank everyone who supported us along the way. The work the staff do on Yewdale Ward is tremendous, so we are really pleased to raise heaps of money for this great service.”

Former professional Rugby League footballer Danny Skulthorpe, who joined the walk as a representative of the charity State of Mind, said: “It was a very tough, testing walk (/crawl!) up the five mountains, but I feel very lucky that I’m fit enough to do it – I have previously suffered with depression having lost my Rugby League career through injury, and to be able to this for such a cause means a lot to me.

“The money that has been raised is fantastic and will change lives. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and days like today help break down the stigma around this topic.”

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 outdoor 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 did a fantastic job to organise this event in such difficult circumstances. We would like to thank everyone involved; you are all amazing!”

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 still donate to the fundraising page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/west-cumbria-mental-health-sponsored-walk.

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