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June 12, 2023

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workplace wellbeing

How a little game of chess can open up a conversation and improve mental health and well-being in your organisation

SHP hears from 5asideCHESS, which was set up as a social enterprise in 2015 by co-founders, Ross Smith and Ian McKay, in response to their concern about the levels of disconnection and inequality that they saw in society. 

The project has a huge mission: to create connection in order to tackle loneliness, social isolation and the mental ill health and depression that these issues can cause. Ultimately their aim is to reduce the loneliness to suicide pipeline.

The 5asideCHESS Battling Suicide Bus has been on the road since 2018, visiting towns and cities all around the UK.

The bus carries a simple but powerful message, #CHECKONYAMATE, urging people to check up on the people they care about.

The bus is signed with more than 300 messages to loved ones lost to suicide – tangible evidence of the devastating ripples caused when someone takes their own life. So many of the messages people have written on the bus are along the theme of: ‘I just wish we had talked’ and yet talking is not that easy, particularly in the work-place.

CN Mind Matters survey, which received 1,200 respondents within the construction industry, found that 59% of workers did not tell their employer when the time they needed off was for mental ill health.

The majority said that they did not receive the appropriate level of support from their managers when they were facing mental health issues. Other industries fair nearly as badly.

The 5asideCHESS WingMAN programme, developed through the social enterprise’s work in UK prisons is now being rolled out into workplaces around the country following its success at tackling mental ill health amongst men in prison. Governor of HMP Chelmsford, Garry Newnes, said: “I believe if 5asideCHESS can break down barriers, resolve conflict and improve mental health in a prison setting, it can do it anywhere.”

“5asideChess brings workers together”

The organisation train WingMEN in the work place and give them the tools to provide support their colleagues by improving confidence, life skills, mental health and understanding.

Importantly, they provide each trained WingMAN with 30 minutes of independent one-to-one coaching and support every month, which will be delivered remotely. This allows the WingMEN to offload to someone outside of their own organisation as well as to develop their own skills.

David Jones, Director of Education & Training at ICM and Head of Compliance and Competence at NAADUK, said: “5asideCHESS brings workers together, both on and off the construction site, through the simple act of playing a small game of chess. It’s a catalyst for enabling meaningful conversations to happen about mental health, breaking down the barriers that often prevent people from seeking help. Each move on the chessboard is an opportunity to connect with someone, to ask: “How are you doing?” or “Are you okay?” The game becomes a catalyst for open dialogue, allowing workers to support one another and share their experiences. This is a really practical way to help people to help themselves.”

Royal Mail have been using 5asideCHESS to help tackle mental health and well-being in the workplace for the last three years. James McGovern – Communication Workers Union Health & Safety Rep, Merseyside and Wirral, Royal Mail andTUC Health and Safety Rep of the Year 2022 said, “To have a meaningful conversation around well-being, you first need an ice-breaker to enable people who are struggling to talk. Guided conversations, together with using 5asideCHESS as an ice-breaker has meant that we have been able to take further steps to break the stigma of mental health and to support our employees to stay in the workplace”.

For more details about the 5asideCHESS WingMAN programme and the costs involved in introducing it into your workplace, email [email protected]

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