LooseHeadz: The global mental health movement born in a Wilmslow rugby club
Founded in Wilmslow, LooseHeadz is a mental health movement centred around rugby that's tackling stigma right around the world.
It’s often said that all the best ideas are born in bars. With the pandemic closing pubs across the country, it’s a wonder where the next great creation is going to come from.
The concept for LooseHeadz was one of many lightbulb moments flickering into life across British boozers back in 2017.
Three men were propped up at the end of the bar at Wilmslow Rugby Club when they had this crystallizing moment that stopped them mid-sip; turning their heads away from the Lions Tour on tele.
During conversation, Dave, Mark and Rob all realised that they knew someone in sport who’d had what they called a ‘life wobble’; a moment where they’d been seriously down in the dumps.
In the past, they’d tried to raise their pal’s spirit with a cold beer, a reassuring slap on the back and distracting sports talk.
It was all they were qualified to do. And at times it did help.
But the more the trio talked about it, the more they realised that these ‘life wobbles’ were too big for a pint to fix.
Some of these issues were serious – and maybe even had the potential to last a lifetime.
Dave, Mark and Rob knew they didn’t have the expertise to help. But they could build a network of people who did.
It was at that moment they launched LooseHeadz – a brand that didn’t just talk about mental health in rugby but ‘banged the drum’ as loudly as they could so it was impossible to ignore.
The founders drew up four core aims – prevent, promote, educate and signpost issues around mental health – and partnered with some of the best wellbeing support teams in the business, bringing the toughest athletes on board as ambassadors.
The outdated concept of masculinity as stoic defiance is so deeply embedded in sport that many male athletes have kept schtum even when they’re struggling. Sometimes with tragic consequences.
“Nobody ever wants to talk about mental health,” Rob tells us.
“But we realised that needed to change. Suicide biggest killer of men under 45.
“What makes us a bit different is that we use rugby as a vehicle to inspire and educate people as to what we’re all about: Normalising the conversation and tackling the stigma.
“We’ve got 26 ambassadors on board now. If the likes of Ugo Monye, Gareth Anscombe, Brad Shields, Josh Matavesi – these big macho characters – are saying it’s ok not to be ok, people will listen.”
One ambassador, Saracens’ Alex Lewington, says he’s “loved being involved in LooseHeadz”.
“The world is constantly evolving and providing new and challenging issues for people to deal with,” commented the winger.
“The more we talk about it, the better equipped we are to understand and combat mental health issues.”
Amber Reed, England and Bristol Bears player, has also voiced her support for the brand – labelling herself a “LooseHead and proud”.
“I didn’t hesitate when asked to be part of the LooseHeadz movement that looks to tackle the stigma around mental health,” she added.
“LooseHeadz do a fantastic job in reaching out to the community, sharing relatable stories, and supporting those in need.”
Another big name on the roster is rugby league legend Shaun Edwards – who acts as patron of the LooseHeadz Foundation.
Another arm of the brand is the LooseHeadz Academy – which offers a membership scheme and open forum for people to talk about wellbeing with confidence.
The Academy is now home to 100 global fans who fervently believe in the LooseHeadz mission and do their bit to spread the word.
There’s also the Partnership Programme – which sees LooseHeadz work alongside clubs at grassroots, amateur and professional level to raise awareness of just how important great mental health is – and the Wellbeing Through Sport initiative; which is designed to nurture the positive mental health and wellbeing of children through physical activities.
To make all this happen, money is generated through the LooseHeadz fashion range – which is worn by athletes right the way around the world.
“We made an effort to create some really cool clothing,” Rob explains.
“We wanted to create a really high quality range.
“With most charity t-shirts, you wear it once or twice and then it just gets left in the bottom of your wardrobe.
“But our stuff is something people can be proud to wear.
“The logo is an ‘L’ and “H’ – made up to look like rugby posts.”
The company is currently working with as many as 62 clubs in multiple countries.
Domestically, the brand is already well-recognised. But long-term, the plan is to ‘get a LooseHead’ (a mental health support officer who champions wellbeing) inside most rugby teams.
That way, they can start to make a real difference.
“Having a LooseHead in a team removes the stigma,” Rob informs us .
“They do different roles depending on the needs of the club, but they also create constant awareness too – spreading the world and educating people about mental health.
“There’s so much more we can do to keep normalising the conversation and we need to keep doing it.”
It’s been a busy few years since the three owners found the idea for LooseHeadz at the bottom of a pint glass. But the hard work has only just started.
With lockdown sending mental health plummeting in 2020, having the likes of LooseHeadz keeping a close eye on rugby isn’t just advantageous – it’s essential.
“Looseheadz is not for us – it’s for everyone,” Rob says.
“We’d love to grow and expand into more rugby-loving nations beyond Britain. But right now it’s all about striking up great relationships wherever we can.
“Hopefully we can change things.
“Of course, we’ll never truly know how many people we’ve helped.
“But one thing for sure is we’ll just keep on going.”