Burnley teacher using his passion for angling to cast net wide to help hundreds improve their mental health and wellbeing
That simple phrase sums up a certain image, usually of a man armed with an array of rods and tackle as he heads off to pursue his solitary hobby.
But a project, set up by a teacher back in 2017, is living proof that angling is a key factor in helping to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people of all ages, and from all walks of life.
And a project of this kind has never been more relevant or vital as we emerge from the pandemic that has affected the mental health of thousands of people in the UK.
MS Angling and Education is the brainchild of Burnley's Mark Smedley and his passion for the project is evident.
He said: “After teaching in primary education for over 10 years I wanted to provide additional opportunities and experiences, initially for school children. Having a passion for sport and PE as well as angling, and after working as PE Lead for many years, I wanted to incorporate angling into the Lancashire School Games.
"That was my dream at the time. It took two years to get there after delivering many taster sessions and receiving lots of positive feedback and support from headteachers and school games organisers across East Lancashire.
"It happened in 2019, for the very first time, the sport of angling was part of the Lancashire School Games – the pinnacle of school sport across Lancashire. I wanted to give opportunities to children in schools that may not have ever had chance to represent their school at sport before.
"Angling is an individual sport, it’s something different, it’s unique. It wasn’t necessarily going to be the same children interested in, or representing school, for football, cricket, tag-rugby, swimming, athletics, basketball who would take to angling.
"This was something I was used to seeing at many of the sporting events I attended.”
With a lifelong passion for the sport, Mark (42) is a qualified angling coach and teacher and has been delivering angling sessions since 2017 with the aim of promoting positive health and well-being, happiness and opportunity for all ages and abilities.
Whilst delivering angling sessions to schools, other groups and organisations started to contact him about the
possibilities of getting involved.
Since 2017, MS Angling and Education has delivered sessions to a vast range of organisations providing additional opportunities – team building, support groups, wellbeing/mindfulness sessions, fishing therapy sessions, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, birthday parties, one to one sessions, holiday clubs, days out, sessions for those in alternative provision and those completing accredited angling awards.
Mark, who lives in Harle Syke and is a former pupil at St. James Lanehead Primary School, said: "Most recently, I am so proud to be working with local GP’s and Social Prescribing Teams from East Lancashire, providing fishing therapy sessions to those referred.
"It’s such a great feeling to put smiles on faces. Quite simply, that’s what it’s all about, no matter who the participants are.
"The ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ and ‘Feel Good Friday’ fishing sessions for schools are also fantastic and again it’s just great providing opportunities for children that may never have had the chance to go fishing, for whatever reason, as well as give them a bit of headspace.
"Aliong with physical health, ‘greenspace’ is associated with positive mental health. The health benefits of immersing ourselves in ‘greenspace’ are now widely accepted. A recent study found that people who spent at least two hours in nature per week were consistently more likely to report higher levels of health and wellbeing compared to people who spent less time in nature.
Mark added: "I would like to get the message out to communities across Burnley, Pendle, the Ribble Valley and the whole of East Lancashire to let them know there is support out there for those that feel they need it through our fishing therapy sessions.
"There has been some fantastic work going on prior to and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic – not only for
those suffering from mental health conditions but for schools, groups, individuals and organisations.
"Throughout all the lockdowns we have been delivering sessions to promote positive health and wellbeing,
happiness and opportunities to all ages and abilities.
"Many children, young adults and adults, and in particular, those suffering from anxiety, stress, depression have
benefited greatly and there are some real positive outcomes/stories come from the continued delivery of the
Mark recently delivered a pilot scheme to The Mens' Den in Colne (a peer support group that supports men with
mental health, addiction, or any other issues causing anxiety and stress) with funding support from Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale Community Voluntary Services (BPRCVS), the Angling Trust, East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group and Sport England.
Other organisations he has worked with include Active Lancashire, Together an Active Pendle and East Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust. Mark is also working with Mens' Den founder Nick Alderson to set up sessions for individuals who may have been sectioned and are being supported one to one.
Mark, who attended the former Mansfield High School in Brierfield before going on to study at Nelson and Colne College and then Edge Hill University, said: "We both feel that these fishing therapy sessions would be absolutely fantastic for these individuals.”
"We are going to arrange a meeting and plan further – again a wonderful opportunity to support others – something which I endeavour to do as much as possible with my work."
The health benefits of fishing are vast, from the physical aspect of walking with your equipment to the ideal
spot, right through to the mental health aspect of self-achievement, giving our minds a sense of joy and the respite
from the demands of modern-day life.
Fishing is an opportunity to take time out from the world of uncertainty, to feel the wind on your face, listen to the
birds sing and observe the wildlife.
Mark said: "Fishing provides an opportunity for some head space, some mindfulness - something that we all require and deserve.
"Personally when I'm fishing and surrounded by wildlife and nature, it helps me understand how important it is that
we give our heads a rest and just allow ourselves to be consumed by all that fishing entails."
MS Angling and Education offers a variety of fishing opportunities for primary and secondary schools, colleges and
universities as well as alternative provision schools. and the Wellbeing Wednesday andFeel Good Friday fishing sessions are delivered throughout the academic year at Cornfield Farm Fishery, Burnley.
Fishing sessions can be tailored to suit individual needs, for example: linking to curriculum topics,enrichment/outdoor education activities, Duke of Edinburgh and CAST Awards.
Anyone who would like to get involved in the fishing therapy sessions, is asked to get in touch with their local GP,
Social Prescribing Teams, or contact Mark directly.
If any primary or secondary school groups would be interested in some wellbeing fishing sessions or sessions linked to their areas of study, they are also invited to get in touch with Mark.
Mark is also currently looking to recruit more staff to help with the delivery of the projects - volunteers or anybody
who is interested in the possibility of gaining an accredited angling coaching qualification with a view to part-time
There is certainly no shortage of testimonials to the success of the project.
Amy Whitham, Social Prescribing Link Worker, in Burnley, said: “The fishing for wellbeing sessions are making a huge difference to the patients that have been referred in for support and are a great boost for their mental health.
"Mark is patient and understanding of the needs of individuals and the sessions are delivered in a safe, supportive and peaceful environment.”
The headteacher at Whittlefield Primary School in Burnley said: "The fishing initiatives that Mark and his team deliver are absolutely fantastic for our children and their well-being."
Mark can be contacted via email at [email protected] Further information and latest news can
be found on the MS Angling & Education website at https://www.msanglingandeducation.co.uk and on social media at Twitter @MSmed4.