Focusing on mental health with Open Minds Active

We recently connected with Open Minds Active, a social enterprise based in Bristol, to explore their successes, challenges, and advice to other organisations looking to focus on mental health.

Open Minds Active (OMA) founder, Maggy Blagrove, is an experienced open water swimmer who used exercise to help her, and her friends, manage feelings of grief, stress, and depression during the pandemic. She noticed a significant positive impact on her, and her friends’, mental health and decided to try and bring these benefits to others in her community. In doing so, Maggy became more aware of a distinct lack of diversity amongst those swimming in the lake. OMA was therefore founded with two key aims:

  • To offer inclusive and accessible swimming lessons.
  • To provide socially prescribed, 6-week, open water swimming courses to improve mental health.

What do Open Minds Active offer?

OMA offer a range of activities and courses to improve people’s mental health. These focus on social prescribing from local mental health services, diversifying their open water swimming offer to underrepresented or low-income groups, and hosting team days for larger corporations and organisations.

 Prescribed nature therapy

Through partnerships with over 20 health clinics, GPs and mental health services, OMA offer prescribed nature therapy.

Backed by scientific research, their courses are tailor-made to improve participant’s mental health. OMA support those referred to them through free 6-week courses. All of their team are mental health first aid trained and provide a safe and positive environment.

Accessible sessions

OMA’s aim to engage the local community was initially met with concern. People’s swimming ability was limiting participation, particularly among Black and Asian communities in Bristol.

After meeting Wafa, a former competitive swimmer in her home country Sudan and passionate advocate for teaching women to swim, they both set up women only swimming lessons to offer women from diverse backgrounds a safe and private environment to learn to swim. These started with 12 participants in 2020 but have grown to over 100 women. OMA have since recruited several coaches who act as role models and are representative of the communities they serve.

One of their swimming lesson participants, Lildonia, stated that she was nervous at first ‘but because there are specific sessions for women of colour, I [she] felt like it was a supportive environment’.

To continue to diversify their offer, OMA provide free sessions for local refugees and asylum seekers and have begun branching out to the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their support is in clusive. Mental health support is a priority for OMA, but reaching underrepresented communities is becoming an increasing focus.

Corporate involvement

OMA offer ‘team days’ where organisations, companies, or private groups can book workshops and sessions such as ‘Cold Water Swimming’ or ‘Wellbeing Reset’. These aim to boost mental health. The income generated is reinvested to help subsidise the free sessions for refugees, asylum seekers, referred participants and others that may require additional financial support.

Mental health

In the last 7 months, OMA have engaged with 45 prescribed participants over 3 cold water therapy programmes. The sessions focus on acclimatisation, learning about the health benefits, health and safety, and mindfulness. After the free prescribed course, participants can attend £5 drop-in sessions with support groups which are run by peer mentors. Recent survey data has revealed that 96% of participants felt reduced levels of anxiety in just 6 weeks.  

One of Open Minds Active’s learner swimmers described a feeling of immediate relaxation as soon as she got into the open water.

Open Mind Active’s advice to others

  • Take the time to understand and tailor your offer to your local community.
  • Listen to your participants. You’re providing provisions with them not for them.
  • Ask questions to ensure your participants needs are being met.

A group of people in wet suits in water.

Photo credit: Orca.

You can find out more about supporting your people with their mental health on the Club Matters website.

Further information  

To support Open Minds Active, you can visit their website, Open Minds Active, or social media profiles. They’ve also recently launched a YouTube channel which has some exciting content lined up, Open Minds Active - YouTube. 

Explore the Club Matters website to find out more about supporting your people’s mental health, reaching different audiences or social prescribing 

To explore more ways your organisation can offer accessible, inclusive provisions, check out our case studies with Spencer Lynx Hockey Club and Soul Swimmers. 

Last modified: Monday, 18 September 2023, 9:50 AM