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Russell Turner

Working to identify challenges and improve mental health outcomes

Russell Turner represents Sport England.

Which part of the region do you live in and / or work in?

I have worked across the West Midlands for many years and currently focus on the WMCA geographies. I have lived in Leicester and then Nottingham for last 25 years.

Which organisation/sector/network are you representing on the Mental Health Commission?

I represent Sport England an arms-length body of government with a mission to invest in sport and physical activity to make it a normal part of life for everyone in England, regardless of who they are.  I also bring with me the infrastructure which we in part-fund to make a difference to tackle inequality, increase physical activity and decrease physical inactivity.

How does your role relate to the mental health agenda?

I think intuitively we know that being more physically active makes you happier. Organisationally we are focused on tackling stubborn participation inequalities which we can evidence have been exacerbated by the pandemic. It is not just a case of ‘putting on more sessions’ the barriers to participation are multi-layered and complex. We know that we need to work in a more nuanced way in geographies where inequalities are most vivid and sustainable local solutions are most likely to be most found. Similarly we know that we sometimes need to take an audience or cohort approach. We know that the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and has impacted disproportionately on peoples capability, opportunity and motivation. Poor mental health is not conducive to people being active and meeting the Chief Medical Officers physical activity recommendations for adult, children or disabled people and disabled children. Nor is it likely that a person with poor mental well-being will have a resilient lifelong physical activity habit to withstand the ups and downs of life. But in truth we are new to this work it is only recently that NICE guidelines around depression have identified physical activity as an evidenced intervention. We have a long way to go but have started to form national alliances with organisations like Mind to carry forward the work together accepting that Minds routes to participants are more direct, more sustainable and more likely to provide peer-to-peer support that respects the role of lived experience in tackling inequality.

What are your particular areas of passion and interest, which you aim to champion through the work of the Commission?

I’ve worked for the public sector for 30 years for three local authorities before joining Sport England. My passion is to make a difference that lasts. For too long we have been focused on delivering single projects and interventions which last as long as the funding and then dissipates – letting down the very people who would benefit most from being physically active. In the last four years we have truly begun to tackle place-based systemic approaches to tackle stubborn participation inequalities. We now put the individual or citizen at the heart of what we do; building on the assets they have access to and growing their capacity to lead the change they would wish to see. By taking a systemic approach we acknowledge that no one organisation has all the answers or resources to deliver the required change. By letting go of power, and focusing on outcomes we can achieve more together and yield lasting change. My passion then is to bring to the table Sport England’s system role, including the organisations we enable, to secure the ‘connective tissue’ between organisations with the ultimate aim of focusing more and more on those who need it most. This includes those who have poor mental well-being.

What particular knowledge, skills & experience are you particularly seeking to ‘bring to the table’ to help to progress the work of the Commission?

 I’ve had a long public sector career starting in local government before deciding to focus on physical activity and sport. I view the last four years as pivotal and career-defining. Why? Because we’ve realised that ‘place’ and the local context is key. The reasons behind inactivity are most vivid locally as are the local solutions. We now know that not accepting received wisdom and being disruptive are critically important – if we keep doing what we always have we shouldn’t be surprised that we get the same result. I hope to bring positive disruption, to be challenging when faced with the suggestion that we ‘have to do it that way because that’s the way is has always been done’ I will also champion lived experience as this work must start from the individual with the system (resources, organisations, policies) adapting to them – and not the other way round. I’m genuinely excited about what can happen when good people trust one another and let go of their power in favour of distributing leadership to those who know and understand best.