It’s National Mental Health Awareness week this week. I thought that as Executive Director of Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons UK, I would share some of my story.
You might look at me, at what I do and the messages that I am teaching the boys, girls, coaches and friends and think, “She totally has her life together.” That I am perfectly content with my body, my own strengths and weaknesses and that I don’t have any ‘issues’ at all. However, I think that it is important to be able to share and show my own vulnerability and where I find the strength to continue delivering the Mini Mermaid and Young Triton messages.
My very earliest memory was of disliking myself. I was bigger than most of the girls in my ballet class and felt conspicuous and self-conscious. My hair was a wild mass of black curls, which was very tricky to tame, and I was average at everything in school…apart from Maths. I thought that I sucked at maths. I was always comparing myself to my friends and this was something that haunted me through my childhood and into my teens. I always wanted to be someone else…
When I was 9, someone said to me that I was ‘big boned.’ That was the comment that followed me throughout the rest of my life…. ‘That person thinks that I am fat’… this means that I am not worthy, this means that I can’t be happy unless I am thinner. These thoughts at this age fit exactly with the statistics that show that a girl’s self esteem peaks at the age of 9 and then starts to take a nose dive.
Mine certainly did.
That one (Siren) comment when I was 9 began to shape who I was. Cue my teenage years of never being content with myself, always looking for the new diet that would be my miracle and a very unhealthy relationship with food. Looking back I do wonder where I had learnt those messages of self-esteem being linked to my size, was it that I was growing up in the 80’s where the diet culture was beginning to boom and that I was bombarded with images of women being happy only because they were thin?
I now know that it was my Siren voice shouting so loudly that she drowned out my true Mini Mermaid voice. If I had chance to go back to my 9-year-old self, I would scream at her that what that one person said wasn’t the truth, I was strong, I was powerful, I was 9 years old and those lies that I was hearing and seeing would not define who I would be. Likewise, I would also say to her that I wasn’t bad at Maths, I just needed extra time to get it, and when I did get it (albeit 25 years later) the feeling was INCREDIBLE!
I won’t lie, I still have those Siren thoughts some days and I really struggle to quieten her down. She can be quite loud. Those days days where she tell me that every decision I make is wrong. As I’m recovering from my back injury, she tells me that I will never run as fast as I did and when I’m faced with a stressful time where nothing is in my control she tells me that the only thing that I can control is what I eat.
But now, I have the tools to stop, and breathe, and look and think. It may not be in the moment when Siren is there, but my strong Mini Mermaid voice does eventually come through and tells me my truth, that the decisions I make may not always work, but it means that I am learning everyday and that is awesome! My back is getting better and that shows that my body is strong! In stressful times, I need to treat my body with respect and fuel it to be able to take on whatever it is that I need to do.
I believe that looking after our mental health is as important as looking after our physical health. They go hand in hand, interlinked. It is so important to talk, support and listen to each other. Mental health issues do not discriminate and by continue to champion the Mini Mermaid and Young Triton programmes, I have a chance to help change the story for our next generation. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to talk. We are here. Talk. Share. Show compassion and never judge someone on what they present to the world.
#silencesiren #nationalmentalhealthawareness #itsoknottobeok
Mini Mermaid Running Club UK Teams with Full of Beans to Bring Inspiring Programme to Merseyside
MERSEYSIDE, 3 MAY 2018 - Mini Mermaid Running Club UK have launched on the Wirral! The club, a unique programme that works with girls between the ages of 7-11 to build self-worth, confidence and resilience, have started working with Full of Beans Fitness Ltd, offering the first ever programme on the Wirral. Michael Green of Red Systems Specialist Glazing, have complemented the efforts of Full of Beans Fitness by sponsoring the experienced coaches who are delivering the programme.
“Full of Beans Fitness is a natural fit for Mini Mermaid Running Club,” said Hannah Corne, Executive Director, Mini Mermaid Running Club UK. “We have a shared belief that physical activity has a profound effect on young girls, emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. With studies showing girls’ confidence peaks at 9 years old, we work to strengthen their self-esteem and belief in themselves to set and achieve amazing things.”
The Mini Mermaid programme uses a multi-week curriculum that combines mindfulness, physical activity, and games. Girls learn about self-compassion, goal setting and the value of exercise. At the end of the programme, the girls participate in local 5KM challenge, at which they set their own goals. The real celebration stems not from their time, but rather their ability to work hard and persevere to achieve that goal.
“We really excited to be delivering the Mini Mermaid programme in the North West,” said Nicky Adams, Director, Full of Beans Fitness Ltd. “Recognising some of the problems young people are increasingly struggling with, we have been looking for a programme that combines physical activity with self-development which builds confidence, tackles low self esteem and gives girls the power to be able to complete a 5k course at the very end. What’s not to love? The fact that OFSTED also value the programme is fantastic and we hope to be able to offer the club to as many girls as we can around the North West.”
“We are delighted to support this project as it is a subject very close to REDs heart,” said Michael Green from RED SYSEMS. “We have a number of runners in work and we support health and fitness across the company by offering all staff members gym membership as we believe that it helps you both mentally and physically.
I think that this is a brilliant initiative by the Full of Beans team and we look forward to seeing them grow and roll it out across other schools”
To sign up for the programme on Merseyside, please contact Nicky Adams 07914 836 797, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Mini Mermaid Running Club UK
Established in the UK in 2015, Mini Mermaids Running Club UK works with girls between the ages of 7-11 to build self-worth, confidence and resilience. MMRC UK combines mindfulness, physical activity, and game. Girls learn to be brave, rather than perfect, which can impact their lifelong emotional, mental and physical well-being. MMRC UK will have had more than 1000 girls through their programmes in schools and community centres in Leeds, London and the Wirral by July 2018.
Three years ago, I stood in front of a group of young girls, took a deep breath, and started a wild, exhilarating journey. 10 girls. One school. Welcome to the UK, Mini Mermaid Running Club!
Talk about silencing my Siren voice and leaping into the unknown. I had no idea what to expect; the launch of this had come from a very personal place and I felt so strongly that our girls deserved this. Telling girls that they’re strong, smart and capable of anything is one thing. Seeing them experience it first-hand? That’s the icing on the cake.
We’ve been crazy busy since that very first day. We have had 100 programmes in Leeds and London. Our first ever programme on the Wirral began just this week and by this summer, more than 1000 girls will have participated in Mini Mermaids, and our boys programme, Young Tritons, is up and running. Between all the groups, they have clocked up more than 5000km. Phew!
Numbers and stats are my thing, I like looking at the numbers, but more importantly, I love looking at the individuals. This Saturday, that very first group of Mini Mermaids will take their final 5km challenge, having successfully participated in a programme every year since we began in 2015. Each of these girls have taken the lessons of Mini Mermaid Running Club and made it her own, grown in confidence and found her voice.
I’ve always believed that Mini Mermaids represents a starting point for something greater. #thefinishlineisjustthebeginning. So imagine my excitement when three of our Mini Mermaid pioneers were keen to stay involved with us, even as they make the move onto secondary school.
This keen involvement of these remarkable girls has sparked our first ever Mini Mermaid UK Ambassadors!
Ria Rathor, Leila Preval and Mahum Khan will be sharing their thoughts and feelings about Mini Mermaids with our new wave of participants and be on hand to help them out at their final challenges. We are just a bit super stoked about this (and a little bit teary eyed!)
So If you find yourself near Roundhay this Saturday for parkrun, give a highfin to Ria, Leila, Mahum and the rest of their MIni Mermaid tribe.
To all of them, thank you. Thank you for trusting in me and trusting in the programme. Siren’s got nothing on you, ladies. You are truly majestic Mini Mermaids!
So excited! Look out for one of our Mini Mermaid Coaches on the course this Sunday. Holly Button will take on the London Marathon to raise funds for Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons UK. We caught up with her before she made her way to London.
1. What inspired you to run London?
I was inspired to run London Marathon because of an article in Runner's World about how Chris Brasher and John Disley had a vision of setting up a world class event, like Boston, and worked so hard to do it to showcase England to the world. I was really impressed at how they followed their passion for running and their country and didn't give up. They even borrowed an aircraft to fly financiers over the city to physically show where the run would take place. I want to have my own story to tell about it.
2. How do you balance training with other aspects of your life?
Balancing training for London while looking after my children full time is interesting. My husband and I take turns training for a marathon each year. I get the spring and he gets the autumn. It works really well - when it's my turn, I feel less guilty about leaving the house. And when it my husband’s turn, if I can’t go out for a run on a weekend, I don’t feel grumpy because I had my time.
Getting back into running and balancing my recovery from birth (my youngest will be 10 months and 3 weeks on marathon day) has been more challenging. I’ve had my ‘Siren’ thoughts. Is my body strong enough? Did I stop breastfeeding too soon? The feelings of uncertainty and guilt put doubts in my mind as to whether to go out and train. However, the feelings of freedom and being 'me' has been rejuvenating. I enjoy getting out there and value that time even more than before.
3. Training always presents challenges - what are some of the ways you worked through those challenges?
I find the long miles boring and lonely, so running with the great Valley Striders (my club) has been fantastic. However, I did do some of my runs alone because my confidence in doing the distance was a challenge. I didn’t want to commit to a distance or a pace. That stopped me from contacting friends to join me.
My husband was really supportive though and encouraged me to go out. He helped with route planning and getting up in the night with the children so I could be more rested. The weather was also a challenge - the snow seemed to fall just at the weekends, but I put on some fell shoes (with long rubber spikes on the bottom) which gripped the snow really well, and got out there!
4. What will Siren say to you on Sunday? What will Mini Mermaid say?
Siren will say "It's too hot", "I need the loo!", "Where's Tom? He said he would be here & he's not...why would he let me down now?", "Why didn't I do my exercises each day?", "You've eaten too much cake", "Give up - you'll only hurt yourself".
Mini Mermaid will say "Just to the next mile marker", "You have trained enough", "Enjoy it...it'll be over before you know it!", "Wow! You are amazing!", "Look at all these people cheering for you!", "Run next to the guy dressed as a pepperami - you can pretend his cheers are for you!", "Smiles means miles!", "You had a baby less than 11 months ago - strong mama".
5. What are you most excited about come Sunday? Most nervous?
I am most excited about seeing the city & my friends on the way.
I most nervous about my knee and bum being painful - I've had some excruciating pain.
6. What would you say to someone nervous about taking on a new challenge, of any kind?
Give it a go - you never know, you might like it! We're all better than we think we are
High Fins, Holly! #ittakesatribe #thefinishlineisjustthebeginning #silencingsiren
It’s been an emotional rollercoaster here at Mini Mermaid Tower this week. Last weekend started with a story in The Independent that said “There is a ‘direct correlation’ between a lack of physical activity by young British girls and them having poorer mental health and lower aspirations than their male counterparts. This is particularly troubling when studies show that girls spend half as much time being active as boys especially during the transition between primary and secondary school.
That same day, I saw pictures of some of our first time Mini Mermaids rocking their 5K challenge on a snowy London morning. Two of the girls had stated previously that they “hated” PE. One blew away her Mama Mermaid with her kick at the end of the run. The other Mermaid’s mum told us her daughter now wants to join a running club. All the girls had these looks of determination during the challenge; their pride and joy after was beyond contagious.
Then we have all the stories coming out of Sport Relief and the epic challenges undertaken. Zoe Ball had me glued to the TV on Wednesday, with tears in my eyes as I watched her 335 mile bike trek from Blackpool to Brighton to raise awareness about depression and suicide in men. I also had the privilege to watch and support a group of school children from St Matthews primary school in Leeds run in their annual Fun Run supporting St. Gemma’s Hospice, cue the tears again!
During our Mini Mermaid programme, the girls complete a service project. It may be cleaning up the school playground or field, leaving inspirational messages from the their classmates, or writing “thank you” posters to the people in their lives. The message - helping others will always make us feel better, no matter who we are or what we have.
The movement and activity that we do in Mini Mermaids has nothing to do with how we look, but how we feel and what we can do. Confidence, strength, self-esteem. That our girls are valued and will always have something of value to offer others. Being physically active gives us a vehicle to do good for others. We may not quite know how to counsel someone suffering from depression, but we can get on a bike and cycle for awareness. We may not understand the science behind palliative care, but we can run to raise money for those who do. We may not be able to cure loneliness but we can run to spend the day with an elderly person and provide critical company.
And through all of this, sometimes, the very person we help is ourselves. #thefinishlineisjustthebeginning #ittakesatribe
This Saturday in Roundhay, a group of our Mini Mermaids will take on their 5K challenge. It’s a big deal for these girls. I won’t lie. It’s a pretty big deal for me as well. It represents the culmination of six weeks of focused work on the part of these girls - setting goals, listening to their true inner voices while silencing doubts and finding their inner strength.
When these girls line up, an entire community will have their backs. The coaches who have volunteered their time. The schools and community centres who have embraced our programme. The magnificent Jane Tomlinson Appeal, which has supported us this year, and the team at Run For All, who join our Mama Mermaids on challenge days to make sure each of our girls has support as she makes her way through the challenge.
There’s a power in this collective, fueled by a steady stream of passion and belief. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, #PressforProgress, reminds me that what we do in our communities makes a difference and everyday, we have an opportunity to move toward gender equality. IWD - started with a handful of voices in the early 1900’s - has become this beautiful, sustainable cacophony, intent on achieving political, economic, social and cultural equality.
And this year feels monumental. There are these powerful female voices, across ages, ethnicities and geographies, that will settle for nothing short of actions that lead to gender equality, no matter how long it takes. This commitment is critical - The World Economic Forum says gender parity could take 200 years.
So here in our Mini Mermaid communities, we’ll #PressforProgress by awakening the self-worth, confidence and resilience we believe resides inside every one of our Mini Mermaids. Today's Mini Mermaids. Tomorrow's Leaders.
#ittakesatribe #thefinishlineisjustthebeginning #PressforProgress
I tuned into an interesting discussion on Radio 5 Live this week. Over the weekend, The Telegraph reported that some secondary schools report as much as a 38% decrease in PE participation around exam time. Today’s Radio 5 discussion: “PE - what did you love? What did you hate?”
Open the floodgates! Some people waxed poetic about their PE days. Others, years on from school, still have a horrid visceral reaction. Parents spoke about how participation in PE increased their children’s overall success, while others spoke of the distress PE caused.
In the midst of the discussion, a really interesting nugget popped up. Could we make PE less about how great one kicks a football and more about the benefits of physical activity?
For so many reasons this makes sense. There’s a difference between sporty and active. We’re not all sports stars. Some of us aren’t sporty at all. And that’s okay!
The benefits of physical activity are particularly relevant for children who are approaching their exams. Last year during the exam period, the NSPCC’s Childline saw an 11% increase in calls from children feeling overwhelmed, with the majority of calls from children between 12-15. At the same time, Great Ormond Street Hospital cites increased concentration and improved academic marks as the top benefit in exercise for children around exam time.
Can we reshape the discussion around PE? Can we make it more about life skills and less about winning and losing? We focus on this heavily at Mini Mermaids, simply because we’ve seen and experienced the benefits of it. Of note, most of the girls that we encounter through our programmes, don’t come from a “sporty” background. The “whole child” approach that we use enables girls to look at physical activity as something that anyone can do and has such a positive effect on their inner dialogue with themselves.
Our girls combine physical activity, games and mindfulness, which in turn positively impacts their lifelong emotional, mental and physical well-being. Their self-esteem and confidence increases and this carries over to all aspects of their lives. This unique way of delivering physical activity, keeps the girls coming back to our programmes year after year.
At a time when children, especially girls, turn away from PE, let’s change the dialogue. With so many proven benefits, we need to increase participation and improve the connection between physical activity and academic studies.
Last week, I saw this tweet from our ambassador Stacey Copeland. Stacey is a professional boxer and is also passionate about #PaveTheWay, which helps to shift the view and opinion on women participating in sport.
This week, across the country, we celebrate Emmeline Pankhurst and the 100th anniversary of women’s first right to vote in Britain. Pankhurst and fellow Suffragettes were committed to securing a voice for women; that they could and should participate in the political dialogues shaping our country.
Much like Emmeline, Stacey Copeland challenges the status quo through action and dispels the perceived limitations based on gender (oh, and did I mention both are Northerners!). These are the role models I point to when I hear a girl say she can’t.
At Mini Mermaid UK, we use a character-based curriculum that acknowledges the positive and negative voices that girls encounter on a daily basis. We work to strengthen the voice that builds confidence, which is the most important voice telling a girl that she can, and quieten the negative voice that erodes self-esteem.
Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes achieved a ground-breaking beginning for equality for women in Britain. Most importantly, they laid the foundation for the ongoing quest for equality for women. Women like Stacey Copeland continue that fight today. Amongst our young Mini Mermaids are the leaders who will carry this into tomorrow.
The thread between these women – past, present and future – is the belief that they can.
To all of them, high fins!
“Lack of physical activity among girls leading to poor mental health and low aspirations, warn experts.”
There was a lot in the news this week discussing sport, the differences between how young girls and boys participate (or in some cases don’t) and the correlation between physical activity and mental health. But this headline from The Independent jumped out at me. I found it frustrating. It frustrates me that so many young girls avoid physical activity, mostly because they’re so self-conscious. Uncomfortable sweating. Don’t want to seem “unfeminine.” Worry that they’re not perfect at it, or even worse, that they’ll fail. And that this avoidance can have long term implications for their future - mentally, emotionally and physically. In fact, a study in 2015 found girls aged 10-12 in England struggle more with their bodies, looks and health than most other countries in the world
But, you want to know what was more powerful than the frustration? The motivation. I want to reach out to every girl who feels this way and say, “You CAN! You’re amazing!” It’s ok to sweat and it’s ok to not be perfect. The most important thing is you tried. Your best IS the best!
While I brought Mini Mermaid to the UK for very personal reasons, I’m inspired by the girls who have participated in our programmes in Leeds, London and soon in Liverpool. In 2016, we conducted an impact report to see if our programme achieved what it set out to do. Five key benefits for the girls emerged:
These benefits transcend just participation in physical activity. Yes, we end each curriculum with a 5K challenge, but this challenge acts as a powerful vehicle for goal setting for each girl, and the belief that she can achieve. It’s the starting point for applying the lessons of Mini Mermaid. The girls became more aware of their own value, their strength and their ability to positively contribute to their families, schools and communities. We had one girl tell us, “I used to think I was bad at maths....I'm not bad, I just do it at my own pace.” Other girls said, “you learn how to stand up for yourself” and “It helped me to walk away and not listen to the bully.” A third said, “At Mini Mermaids we learn how to make people feel better if they have a problem.”
As we continue to grow Mini Mermaid in the UK, we hope that more girls have this type of positive experience with lasting rewards. I’d welcome anyone interested in learning more about Mini Mermaid UK, whether it's about volunteering or starting a programme to contact me.
We say this a lot here at Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons Running Club UK. Probably because it's true.
Ever since we started Mini Mermaid in Islington more than a year ago, I've continually been amazed by, grateful for and excited about how communities have responded to our mission. Schools, community centres, local businesses, parents, students and volunteers - all have come together to make our programmes a success. Since then, we’ve added 10 new programmes and are ready to launched our first London Young Tritons programme.
You can imagine how stoked I was when a new group joined this already impressive list of supporters - The Arsenal Foundation, which awarded us a grant last week. Since Arsenal's formation in 1886, they've identified ways in which they can give back to the communities that support them, and formally launched The Arsenal Foundation in 2012. The Foundation share our core value of helping young people achieve their full potential.
With this grant, we can fund even more programmes in Islington and Hackney. Why is this so important? Our 4-year programmes work with girls and boys, independently, between the ages of 7-11 to build self-worth and value, and instill a love of movement. Girls gain more confidence and self-esteem. Boys recognise that there’s more to strength than just physical. All take on a 5K challenge, the finish of which can mark the beginning of healthy long-term emotional, physical and mental habits.
High Fins to the crew at The Arsenal Foundation, as well as to everyone who's supported us as we grow here in London.
The Mini Mermaid Team
Interested in volunteering with us? We’re always on the lookout for new members of our tribe. Contact Khara at email@example.com
If you’d like to bring Mini Mermaids and/or Young Tritons to your local school/ community, click here.