A PIONEERING group which improves the mental and physical wellbeing of older people through community-based sports reminiscence projects is set to double its activities after winning charity status.

The Sporting Memories Network, a social enterprise based in Topcliffe, near Thirsk, has become a registered charity to enable it to recruit, train, manage and support more volunteers working on its schemes.

Director Tony Jameson-Allen, a former psychiatric nurse who launched the network in 2010, said charitable status would make the venture sustainable, enabling it to add to its programme of memory-sharing projects such as one with the Newcastle United Foundation, which will culminate with an exhibition at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle.

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Mr Jameson-Allen said while many of its existing projects were based in nursing settings, such as a Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust scheme for a group of 14 men with dementia in Sunderland, the network had begun training library staff to run sessions and has launched a group in a pub.

It has also applied for a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, with the aiming of working with clinical commissioning groups to provide services in North Yorkshire.

The network, which aims to cater for a range of older people alongside its core group of people living with dementia, provides each community scheme with a range of materials, including a training guide and images of sporting legends, and publishes a weekly sporting memories pink paper.

Mr Jameson-Allen said the innovative approach, which has been backed by scores of sports stars including David Coulthard and Robbie Savage, served as a powerful trigger for “hard to reach” older men to engage in conversation about sporting greats.

He cites the case of dementia patient Bill Corbett who was struggling to communicate before participating in a group, when it emerged he had played for Celtic and, after further sessions, for Scotland alongside footballing legend Bill Shankly.

Mr Jameson-Allen said: "Time and again we see people who struggle communicating will engage in a group where the discussion is purely about a sporting legend, where there isn't the pressure of having a conversation in the here and now.

“We have found the projects also have a really positive impact on people living with depression and low moods.

“We talk sport, but behind it, it gives us a fantastic opportunity to talk about mental health issues.”

For details about the network or to contribute to its sporting memories bank, visit sportingmemoriesnetwork.com