Duke of Cambridge visits Everton in the Community as part of the Heads Up campaign

The Duke of Cambridge travelled to Liverpool yesterday, to visit the Everton Football Club’s official charity, Everton in the Community. As President of the FA, Prince William spent the day at the charity as part of the Heads Up campaign.

On hand to welcome The Duke of Cambridge were the Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside, Mark Blundell DL, the High Sheriff of Merseyside, David Steer QC DL, Councillor Anna Rothery, Lord Mayor of Liverpool and Richard Kenyon, Chief Executive Officer for Everton in the Community.

Spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the Heads Up campaign was initiated to help break down the stigma of mental health issues with the hope that, by utilising the popularity of football, men will feel more comfortable talking about their mental health and reaching out for help. The biggest killer of men under 40 is suicide.

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Founded in 1988, the Everton in Community charity began with the idea that by employing the power of sport, it would be possible to use the team’s influence to motivate as well as inspire their fans and the community to make looking after their mental wellbeing a priority. William had the opportunity to spend time with three of the charity’s initiatives, focusing on different sections of the local public.

While touring the facility, the Prince chatted with some of Everton’s players about their own struggles psychologically and inquired as to what they do to cope. First team stars Jordan Pickford and Theo Walcott joined William and Professor Andy Smith from Edge Hill University in the ‘Tackling the Blues’ session. Tackling the Blues is a programme which aims to help children and young adults battle mental health issues.

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The Duke of Cambridge at Everton in the Community; he played emoji bingo with local schoolchildren (Photo courtesy of Kensington Palace)

Students from the Springwell Park Community Primary School participated in a game called Emoji Bingo, where they used emojis to represent feelings that they had recently experience. The game provides a way for the children to feel comfortable dealing with their feelings and helps them to open up to conversations about them as well.

In addition to emoji bingo, physical activity and peer mentoring are important components to the Tackling the Blues programme. Not only do they help to reduce anxiety in children, they are essential in building self-esteem as well as positive relationships in young people.

Prince William sat with the children and they discussed the importance of having open communication with their families and friends. Additionally, they talked about the programme and the Duke was keen to learn what exactly their understanding was about mental health.

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Joined by Everton first team stars Seamus Coleman, Tom Davies, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Pickford and Walcott conversed at length with William about the Heads Up initiative and the importance of encouraging others to really feel comfortable talking about their mental health issues, and different ways to show support in difficult situations. As footballers, these athletes have a unique influence that they can impart to help diminish the stigma that surrounds the topic of mental health.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin said to the royal visitor: “One thing that you cannot prepare for is the opinions of thousands and thousands of people. You cannot please all of the people all the time. We have had a tough time for two or three seasons, and we have had to help each other through that. Having that foundation helps us get through and crack on.”

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The Duke of Cambridge agreed that the athletes have not only fan pressure but emotional and peer pressure as well. He said that it was his hope that the Heads Up campaign will be able to work across all clubs at every level.

He shared: “We have got to get passed the idea of getting as much out of a player and then move them on.”

The Prince also said that it was his hope that there would be a more holistic approach towards the support of players and their families.

Next, William was introduced to members of the Everton Veterans Hub, before joining them for a round-table discussion about their programme. The Veterans Hub supports ex-military personnel as they deal with transitioning to civilian life and helps them to deal with the many unique challenges that come after a life in the military.

Since 2015, the Everton Veterans Hub has offered numerous programmes from engagement tools, evidence-based behavioural change methods to sessions in support mechanisms, all in the quest to help improve the lives of the veterans and their families.

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A five-a-side match combining first team players and veterans hub players was next on the agenda. Afterwards, players spoke with William about the many different mental health issues that can come from being a footballer. They discussed the difficulties that arise when a player moves to a new team or what happens when a player retires.

After the match, The Duke of Cambridge sat down with some of the veterans in an effort to understand the struggles of re-entering civilian life. When he asked the men whether or not they felt that the military had done enough to prepare them for civilian life, they answered with a resounding “No!”

To which William replied: “I agree with you. The bit I have always found difficult is the skills you learn in the forces don’t translate into civvy life. We can get better at translating these skills.”

Prince William joined a conversation with participants from the
Everton Veterans Hub, which supports service personnel in transition from military to civilian life. (Kensington Palace)

For the last part of the Duke’s visit, the future King met with some of the Stand Together programme’s participants. The Stand Together initiative provides the elderly community members with an array of programmes that aid in combating social isolation for the over 70s in Merseyside. Seniors take part in activities such as interactive music and dance performance, home safety advice, history lessons about their city, all while being provided with a way to make new friends.

Together the men enjoyed a session devoted to reminiscing about football and discussing what memories football memorabilia evokes for them.  On hand were some old football boots and programmes to help spark a plethora of fond memories.

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Following the day’s events, Everton in the Community Chief Executive Richard Kenyon shared: “It has been a tremendous honour for us to welcome The Duke of Cambridge to Liverpool this afternoon and to provide him with the opportunity to visit some of our mental health programmes.

“It was fantastic to see him interacting with some of our participants and to see him chatting with our amazing staff about their work and the positive impact it has on people’s lives.”

Speaking of the importance of the work that Everton in Community perform, Dominic Calvert-Lewin said: “I’ve seen firsthand the impact that Everton in the Community’s work has made. It doesn’t only help lives it changes lives and it’s an unbelievable thing to see.

“You’ve seen it today, elderly people given the chance to meet Prince William and it gives people a sense of belonging and gives them a chance to meet and speak to people. You feel like you’ve got someone there for you and that’s what Everton in the Community is all about.”

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Before he left, William receiveed a football shirt and framed picture from representatives of the Heads Up! foundation.

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