A life-changing mental health programme has been introduced at St Matthew’s Little Lever Primary School in Bolton today. The ‘Are you AO-K’ initiative has been launched by online electricals retailer and Sale Sharks’ new headline sponsor, AO, alongside the charitable partner of Sale Sharks – Sharks Community Trust.
After recognising how difficult the past 18 months have been for young people because of the pandemic, Sale Sharks and AO teamed up to create the ‘Are you AO-K?’ curriculum. The curriculum has been created by the Sharks Community Trust team, who use rugby and the values of the sport to change lives across the region.
‘Are you AO-K’ is designed to raise awareness amongst children about positive mental health and wellbeing. The lessons are being taught in schools across the North West and courses will last for six weeks at a time. The programme will run in 125 schools throughout the region over the next five years which means that hundreds of children will benefit from this ground-breaking scheme.
Lessons will be delivered by Sharks Community Trust coaches, who have England Rugby level 2 and Level 3 awards in education and training, with the support of the club’s players and staff, including Sharks legend and club non-exec director Jason Robinson.
A core part is teaching the link between physical and mental health. Children will learn what a balanced diet is and how this helps nourish both the body and the mind. After all stages of the programme, they will be encouraged to discuss what they enjoyed about the task to help them recognise that exercise is a great way of boosting happy hormones.
As some children may not be completely comfortable with communicating their emotions verbally, they will also be taught more practical methods to manage negative feelings.
Throughout the lessons, there will also be signposting for services such as NHS, Childline, MIND, Healthy Young Minds and Hub of Hope and at the end of each course, wellbeing packs will be gifted to every child that takes part.
Sale Sharks and England star Jason Robinson was on hand to help AO launch the programme in Bolton. He talked to students about his own life story and the barriers he’s had to overcome to become one of the game’s most decorated stars.
Jason said: “When I was making my way in rugby as a young player, we didn’t have this sort of education and support. It would have made a huge difference to me because I struggled at times.
“These young people have so many new challenges with social media so I jumped at the chance to speak to them, to encourage them, and to remind them that they can be anything they want to be.
“I’m so proud to be involved in this project. It’s fantastic to see the club’s principle partner working so closely with the Sharks Community Trust to change lives in our region.”
Vicky Monk, Director of Customer & Brand at AO said: “Supporting mental health and wellbeing is a really important and exciting part of our partnership with Sale Sharks.
“The last 18 months have been incredibly challenging for everyone, especially children, having faced huge disruption to their daily lives. So, it’s vital that we come together to make sure young people know they can speak up about their mental health.
“At AO, we’re passionate about helping young people realise their potential and we hope that Are You AO-K creates a lasting, positive impact on the children involved.”