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On the crest

By Hannah Tapping

An innovative surf therapy programme that has been piloted by the NHS is changing the lives of young people across the UK.

The Wave Project is the UK’s first surf therapy charity aimed at supporting and promoting children’s mental health. Based in Cornwall, the charity has expanded across the south west of England as far as north Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, and now counts over 6,000 trained volunteer surf mentors, with 5,000 young people accessing The Wave Project surf therapy courses to date. In Cornwall, there are more children with social, emotional and mental health needs than across England as a whole: there were 90 permanent exclusions from schools in Cornwall in 2019/20, and 92 in 2018/19. The long-term cost of each of these children to public services is estimated at £370,000 each – a total cost of £33m per year in Cornwall alone.

Perhaps little known, surf therapy has become an established form of therapeutic support for both mental and physical health. It is recognised by the NHS in the UK as an effective form of therapy for children and young people at risk of mental ill-health and is also used by the police and ‘blue light’ services as therapy for serving officers and professionals.

© Megan Hemsworth

Surf therapy has been at core of The Wave Project for over a decade and lies at the heart of everything they do. The surf therapy programmes offer young people aged 8 to 21 the opportunity to participate in a specialised surf therapy session once a week for six weeks. Each young person is paired with a volunteer surf mentor and receives one-to-one support appropriate to their needs for the duration of the course.

The project supports children and young people who experience a range of physical and mental health issues, social deprivation or social isolation. Young people attending the courses are supported through surfing to build confidence and self-esteem, develop resilience, and make friends. The service is evidence-based and has been evaluated under peer review, with evaluation data showing that young people who participate in The Wave Project’s surf therapy courses come away feeling more confident and better able to make new friends, and make their own decisions.

© Megan Hemsworth

It also offers specialist schools intervention in the form of Beach School, an evidence-based intervention that combines outdoor learning and surfing to help children at risk of exclusion, re-engage with learning. As part of this, there is a new facility planned for a site near Gwithian Towans, in Hayle, and will be the first time a physical building has been erected for this purpose; in fact, the first of its kind in the world. The design is being led by Truro-based architects Lavigne Lonsdale, and has been developed thoughtfully to give children the sense of being outdoors all the time, whilst keeping them safe.

© Jon Line

© The Wave Project

“Beach School is a project that combines outdoor learning with the curriculum to support children who may not be achieving their full potential in education. This new facility has been designed with the needs of children in mind, offering them the chance to learn outside wherever possible, in an environment they find calming and supportive.

“We’re excited to be pioneering this ground-breaking model for education and look forward to partnering with local schools on this project. We hope it will provide a blueprint for other beach schools nationally – and worldwide – helping to reduce the number of children who fall out of the traditional education system altogether,” explains Joe Taylor, Wave Project Founder and CEO.

The proposed Beach School responds to a mental health crisis amongst young people in the UK that is reaching critical levels, with the problem getting worse each year and exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the NHS, one in six children had a diagnosed mental health issue in July 2020, compared with one in nine in 2017.

© The Wave Project

Last month, and to mark the end of the inaugural International Surf Therapy Organization Conference in Cornwall hosted by The Wave Project, surfers and surf lovers on Towan beach in Newquay joined paddle-outs across the world, to mark World Mental Health Day. Surfers met in the water on their boards, joined hands, and formed a human circle in support of mental health. Raising awareness of the benefit of surf therapy has meant that it is now a growing global movement, which The Wave Project is proud to be part of.

The charity is built on volunteers, and there are endless opportunities to lend a hand; so, whether you would like to become a surf mentor, shop assistant, events volunteer, office intern or fundraiser there is room for all.


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