People in The Turning Tides Project enjoying canoeing

Mentor Like Chris and Help Under-Represented Groups in Devon to be Active

Even before the COVID -19 outbreak, there have been inequalities in the activity levels of people in England. Certain groups of people including disabled people, ethnically diverse communities, people with long-term health conditions, or people from an area of deprivation were less likely to get the physical and mental health benefits being active provides.

Sport England’s Tackling Inequalities Fund (TIF) was announced in reaction to the pandemic, to help prevent these inequalities becoming worse. The funding has been shared with organisations that work with one or more of these groups, to either help them support their beneficiaries to be active, or in some instances just to weather the COVID storm.

However, there are times when money will not provide the support these organisations need. Sometimes they need a mentor who can help them with expertise and connections they lack.

The Turning Tides Project and Chris Brown

The Turning Tides Project (TTTP) is a group of people with and without ‘learning disability’ or ‘autism’ labels. In normal times TTTP strives to offer access to all the things that make life worth living, whether this is being active, making music, enjoying art, or any number of other fun activities.

At the start of the first lockdown people involved with TTTP were unable to access their usual active opportunities, resulting in loss of fitness and increased isolation. Coupled with their higher likelihood to feel anxious, this was having a severe impact on their wellbeing.

To combat this TTTP applied for TIF to run a variety of small group activity sessions based on water sports, swimming, cycling and walking. While TTTP was happy to run and administer this themselves, a Project Officer from Active Devon saw an opportunity for help from a mentor called Chris Brown.

Chris Brown has a wealth of experience from his sports development degree, twelve years at Table Tennis England, and two years with British Cycling. He has supported delivery, written risk assessments, strategically developed sport, and everything in between. TTTP was keen to get support with planning the activity sessions, assessing risk, and ensuring they has suitable insurance.

How Did the Mentoring Work?

To kick off the mentoring, Chris met (online) with Jane Williams (Director and founder of TTTP) where they agreed to how they would work and key deliverables. This formed a simple Service Level Agreement (SLA). Chris said:

“The process was not very prescriptive; we were able to be flexible to the needs of the group. This was perfect for me, but others could come up with something a little more specific.”

After the first meeting most communication was via regular emails, with a couple more online calls here and there. Chris and Jane both had hoped for Chris to attend one of the sessions in person, unfortunately this didn’t happen due to COVID restrictions but would have been of value to both parties.

What Did TTTP and Chris Get from the Mentorship?

Jane thought that the biggest value from the mentorship was the connections and the doors Chris was able to open for TTTP:

“I’m not well connected in the sporting world. For other things I know who to talk to and who to ask to get things done. One of the most successful parts of the project, surfing with The Wave Project was a direct result of these connections. The tail end of the surfing was in December, and we had people cheerfully heading off into freezing cold water, and absolutely loving it!”

These connections are still yielding results, even now the mentoring has stopped.

“One of the most valuable connections Chris gave us was to the Disability Officer at the Royal Yachting Association. We have yet to get our guys out on the water with them, but they have been a source of inspiration and ideas.”

Unfortunately, it was not all smooth sailing. Wild swimming was harder than anticipated to arrange. This side of the mentoring was a bit of an eye-opener for Chris.

“It is an activity that is less structured and supported. This means it is harder for disabled people to access. The organisations we were able to get in touch with were not at all geared up to support us.

If I wanted to try an activity, I would just rock up and give it a go. It is much harder for people with specific needs. There is definitely potential for providers to be more inclusive.”

Overall, Chris enjoyed the experience and thought mentoring like this and having a bank of people that can offer this kind of support would be useful for other organisations.

Active Devon is Looking for More Mentors

As more organisations receive support from the TIF programme, the more opportunities there are to help them with more than just funding. Unfortunately, mentors are few and far between. In particular we often get requests for people with experience of completing risk assessments, increasing participant numbers, or recruiting and working with volunteers.

If you are interested in mentoring, TIF is still available to support organisations to become more resilient. Please do get in touch by sending an email to Tim Howard via or using our Contact Us form.