The Impact on the Norwich Fan Community from The Canaries Trust

For many of us football offers an escape, a release from the stresses and strains of what we deal with on a day to day basis. The start of a new season is a time for great hope, new signings, new beginnings, dreams of what may be achieved over the next ten months.

I well remember traveling to The Valley to see my beloved Norwich City play in pre-season at the end of July 2018. It was the first time I saw soon to be club heroes, Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia, turn out for us but it was also a time when I was in the throes of my biggest mental health flare up in over a decade in which I was struggling to manage my anxiety and depression.

Yet for those couple of hours, I felt a degree of respite. A small release from the intensity of what I was going through at that time.

I know I am not alone in feeling this way and it’s encouraging to see football clubs up and down the country promoting mental health awareness more and more but I am particularly proud of how my club and those associated with it are going about this. 

From former Norwich City heroes such as Darren Eadie and Cedric Anselin giving candid accounts of their own mental health struggles to prominent fans and podcasters such as Chris Reeve actively promoting open discussions, all the way through to the Canaries Trust (a supporters trust whose aim is to purchase shares in the club and provide a voice for Norwich City supporters around key goings-on within the club). There seems to be a real collective effort from within and around the football club to make people aware that it’s ok not to be ok and to direct them to places where they can obtain help.

The Norwich City supporting diaspora is pretty large and scattered across the country, and indeed the globe, which comes as a surprise to many who don’t follow the club. 

One such supporter is Chesterfield based Kris Gunns. In late spring 2020, Kris was approached to join the Canaries Trust board as their new mental health ambassador. Having been so open about his own mental illness (borderline personality disorder) and seemingly popular on social media, the opportunity afforded Kris the chance to reach Norwich City fans through a higher profile.

Working alongside the chairman, Robin Sainty, they agreed to set up dedicated mental health channels for fans and trust members to contact them for signposting and advice, setting up @canariestrustmh on twitter and a dedicated email account.

Quickly, people began to approach them, as a trusted and confidential resource, and working alongside the head of safeguarding at Norwich City, Gary Dack, they were able to assemble a team with different skill sets, suited to assisting all supporters contacting the trust.

Kris helped set up the Trust’s mental health forum back in February for “Time to Talk” day which benefited both CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and the local branch of Mind. Through a variety of guest speakers, the forum gave an insight into the background services involved in self-care and what support is available to people. It proved a great success in helping people see what both the football club and local mental health charities were doing to assist people in the Norfolk and Waveney area.

Unfortunately, Kris suffered a major setback in his own mental health, which resulted in him having to step down from the trust and the role, but not without identifying a brilliant replacement in David Whiteside who alongside his colleague Nick O’Brien continue to build on the great work Kris started at the trust and Kris continues to offer his support as a mental health advocate, and supporter of their initiatives.

One such initiative David and Nick have spearheaded is “Mental Health Minis” a  series of mini-videos on the Trust’s YouTube channel featuring a host of different guests from fans to professional athletes all detailing how certain situations have impacted their mental health and the measures they took to help them through these difficult circumstances.

It’s another informative and interesting project from the Trust and continues their fantastic work in normalising discussions around mental health.

Football is often referred to as the most important of the least important things, something I personally agree with and I am proud that so many people involved with and associated to my football club are driving mental health awareness and signposting where people can get help if they need it.

Attitudes towards mental health are a million miles from where they were when I first sought help to manage my conditions back in 2004 but there is still work to be done and I pay homage to the people who are doing so much to further reduce the stigma around discussing mental health and how people are feeling.

Strike a pose! Pre-season photo taken en-route to The Valley

For further information on the Canaries Trust’s mental health initiatives please follow their dedicated twitter account: @CanariesTrustMH .

I’d also recommend following Cedric Anselin, @CedricAnselin , Darren Eadie @Eadie11 , Chris Reeve @ChrisReevo and of course the inspirational Kris Gunns @loodofsquit all of whom have helped so many people with their openness in discussing these issues and promoting mental health awareness.

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