Widnes Vikings Rugby League Club and NHS Halton Clinical Commissioning Group have embarked on a unique, innovative partnership to work together using the power of sport to tackle health inequalities locally in Halton. This has included teaming up with Halton Borough Council to attempt, and successfully achieve, a Guinness World Record of 3,277 people competing in a group exercise video. This as it proved was a successful attempt to bring all corners of the community together through a shared purpose. The impact identified through follow up questionnaires three months later was a positive effect on mental wellness through participation i.e. people felt good and better in themselves for accomplishing something extraordinary.
Professional sport in general holds a unique ability to bring people together. Supporting a team is something often handed down generation to generation; its part of who you are. For Widnes Vikings, every home game attracts over 5,000 people to come together and watch the team. Whether they win or lose has an impact on the mood of the town come Monday. This ability to engage 5,000 people at matches and a wider fan base of over 20,000 people, in an area ranked the 27th most deprived in terms of overall deprivation, presents the Vikings as an ideal conduit to deliver messages that engage and educate in a positive way. Programmes are already underway to use the club as a means to deliver obesity, men’s health, cancer awareness and dementia messages but in line with the Widnes Vikings and NHS Halton Clinical Commissioning Group, the challenge is to use the power of sport to strive for new innovation.
According to the NHS Blood and Transplant Service, 6,876 people are waiting for an organ transplant in the UK with 841 people having received one since April 1st 2015. An organ donation has the ability to save, or greatly enhance lives of the people who require it. Despite vast amounts of work done by the NHS, the number signed up to become an organ donor, remains low. Furthermore, only 4% of adults are currently blood donors despite the fact one simple blood donation can help as many as three people who desperately require it. Donated blood is a lifeline for many people needing long term treatments, not just in emergency situations. The focus of campaigns run by the NHS Blood and Transplant department, focus on two areas; education and awareness, and actually getting people to sign up to be either a blood or organ donor.
Through the campaign, ‘Widnes Vikings: It’s in your Blood’ the club are taking a proactive stance in raising awareness and educating its fans on the importance of giving blood and registering as an organ donor. A campaign of this sort will be a first in rugby league, a sport synonymous with working class people and exactly the demographic that the Blood and Transplant service are targeting.
But why do Widnes Vikings want to get involved?
Richard Munson, ‘Community Integrated Director’ at Widnes Vikings said, ‘Many people will not realise the importance of the work of NHS Blood and Transplant service until they are in a position where they urgently require blood or an organ donation. The ‘It’s in your blood’ campaign intends to fundamentally raise awareness of this vital work through presenting it to our fans and the wider rugby league family as an opportunity to pass on their love and passion for Widnes Vikings or their own club through an incredibly unique method’.
Dave Sweeney ‘Director of Transformation’ said ‘This is natural progression of the integrated approach between NHS Halton and the Vikings. Our beginning aim was to improve health through sport, we soon realised we had kindred innovation and aspiration. We are now moving into a different realm as we are now committed to saving lives through sport. Sky is the limit’.
The ‘Widnes Vikings: It’s in your Blood’ campaign, will launch in the near future with the support of the NHS Blood and Transplant Service and involve a variety of initiatives using the clubs social media, stadium and players.