The smiles that say there is a huge untapped market of new anglers
How can angling grow participation levels over the next five years? The answer could lie not with clubs or national associations but in… healthcare.
The UK non-profit organisation, Tackling Minds, offers fishing sessions to people with mental health problems. Thanks to its research and the tireless work of its founder, David Lyons, and just over three years since it began, Tackling Minds now works directly with the UK health service, which has been persuaded to prescribe fishing for patients with mental health issues.
Tackling Minds has carried out a survey with Anglia Ruskin University and its leading supporter, UK tackle retailer Angling Direct, that shows that people who participate in fishing are significantly less likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, attempt suicide and deliberately self-harm. It means that other services in the UK that deal with people with mental health issues are also taking notice of its work, including the police service, the prison service and veterans’ associations.
But what should interest the angling trade is that close to 80% of those that join sessions run by Tackling Minds are newcomers to fishing and, after experiencing the therapeutic benefits of a day on the bank, are interested to continue in the sport.
It means that Tackling Minds has the potential to be the gateway to fishing for thousands of newcomers.
Lyons told Angling International: “There is a long list of different groups that need remedies for mental health issues, and a long list of representative bodies looking for solutions. The opportunity is there for angling to put itself right at the centre of mental health solutions, play its part in helping people in need and spread the word about the appeal of angling like never before.
“This is a whole new audience that is receptive to hearing about angling and trying it for the first time, and which will only have positive opinions about the sport. The potential for turning them into lifelong anglers is huge and could safeguard angling’s future.”
Tackling Minds began a little over three years ago near Manchester when Lyons posted on Facebook about his own experiences with mental health issues and alcohol abuse. He offered to organise a fishing session for anyone with similar problems and was approached by a local school with pupils with special needs. The first session was with six youngsters on a canal near where Lyons lives. Lyons was convinced from his own experiences that angling could help others who were struggling. It proved to be an immediate success.
Fishing is not necessarily the focus of a Tackling Minds session, he explains when Angling International meets him. “The idea is to create a safe space for people to open up about their issues,” he says. “Angling is perfect for that. You are distracted by the fishing and there is no eye contact with the person you are talking to. The conversations are light and uncomplicated. There is no pressure but still enough time to talk.
“We are working on what differentiates a Tackling Minds session. It’s not therapy, but we know it works.”
Angling Direct was among the first businesses to support Tackling Minds. Lyons (above, right) met with CEO Andy Torrance and the giant retailer has since donated tackle, collected cash donations in more than 50 of its stores, provided laptops and offered staff as volunteers at fishing sessions. It has even part-funded the organisation’s new van. Shimano has also been a strong supporter. “They have both been brilliant,” says Lyons.
The interest in Tackling Minds has exploded over the past year as mental health has grown to be a serious concern, with Lyons making countless TV appearances in the UK and earning media coverage in other countries too. His reputation has grown to such an extent that he was recently named as the 14th most influential angling figure in the UK by the country’s biggest weekly publication, Angling Times.
Tackling Minds is on an upward curve, and Lyons is now asking other brands to get on board by supporting with donations, tackle, promotional work and venues for sessions. It plans to grow beyond Manchester, first to other regions in the UK and, eventually, find partners in other countries. The pay-off for the angling industry is huge but also for individual brands.
Tackling Minds Strategic Lead Paul Taylor said: “This influx of new anglers presents a valuable opportunity for growth and sales within the angling industry. Tackling Minds is committed to fervently supporting any brand that aligns with and aids our vision. In return, we will actively promote these brands as integral contributors to our journey and the broader angling community.”
It is a powerful invitation to any brand. Why not yours, says Lyons, who is bullish about what the industry can achieve by positioning itself as an option within mental health care.
“If I had a roomful of angling brands in front of me right now, I would tell them that the potential for Tackling Minds to introduce more to the sport is clearly demonstrated through the work we have already accomplished,” he says.
“The impact of our efforts is evident, and with the right support we can expand our reach even further. I would like to invite companies interested in exploring what sponsorship with Tackling Minds might entail to contact us directly.”