Blues full-back Leighton Baines played a game of bingo with a difference last week when he visited a local primary school in Bootle to find out more about ‘Tackling the Blues’, an innovative children’s mental health project delivered by Everton in the Community and Edge Hill University.

The award-winning programme works with local schools and young carer groups in Merseyside’s most disadvantaged areas which uses sport and education to help children aged six to 16-years-old with, or at risk of, mental health issues.

The Toffees defender was joined by BBC Match of the Day as he went along to Linacre County Primary School to learn more about the early intervention programme that works to address the increasing number of mental health problems faced by children and young people and join the Year Six pupils in a game of emoji bingo!

Fans’ favourite Baines got stuck in straight away and was close to calling ‘bingo’ and being declared as the winner as he and the children had to identify emotions they had experienced in the last week and draw them on a bingo card in the form of emojis. The game encourages the children to be more vocal about their feelings and to communicate more with their peers.

Speaking after the session, 32-year-old Baines said:

“Today has been a really fun and enjoyable session but with a really important underlying message for the children; it’s key that Everton in the Community and Edge Hill deliver it that way so it stays fun for the kids but still enforces the message that it is ok to feel different feelings at different times and it’s also ok to talk about it.

“Revealing a little bit of yourself helps the kids identify to you and revealing some of your emotions like in the game of emoji bingo that we played and comparing them to things that you have experienced recently and at different times – sharing little things like that about yourself means that the children take to you and you seem more human than someone they just see occasionally on TV or running around the football pitch.”

“There’s a lot that we do as a football club in the local community and it is something that we do pride ourselves on – it is something that the players really buy into and for the likes of myself, this is my local area and the environment that I grew up in so I always feel it is key to be able to give back in that way and be a part of it.

Jon Jones, ‘Tackling the Blues’ Project Lead at Edge Hill University, added:

“It was fantastic to have Leighton come along to one of our sessions and spend so much time chatting to the pupils and get involved in a game of emoji bingo with them! He was really enthusiastic and keen to understand how we work with schools and young carer groups to benefit the mental health of children and young people.

Emoji bingo, peer mentoring and physical activities are just some of the tools used within ‘Tackling the Blues’ to increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety in children whilst helping them build positive relationships with peers and external agencies.

Launched in April 2015, the programme won the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community’ award at the prestigious Times Higher Education Awards in November. Since the launch of the programme, ‘Tackling the Blues’ has engaged over 300 children and young people and provided vital support to those who do not currently access mental health service through weekly interactivity activities with 100 per cent of those engaged reporting increases in self-confidence, self-esteem and reductions in anxiety.

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