Comic relief grants 2019 – Ahead of the game : Sport and mental health



Comic Relief has launched this funding call with two aims:

Firstly, it aims to support new or existing work that combines sports based approaches with quality mental health support to reduce distress and/or improve mental wellbeing.

Secondly, it aims to contribute to the growing body of evidence by learning from projects about what approaches are effective for whom, in what contexts.

The fund will support work in the United Kingdom, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda.


By sports based approaches, we mean programmes which combine a sport for change approach with specific therapeutic elements, and that have access to mental health expertise.


We aim to support projects that work with the most marginalised people, in the most disadvantaged communities.

In Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda, we understand that mental health problems may be more difficult to recognise and diagnose often as a result of stigma and discrimination as well as lower availability of and access to mental health services. We will therefore support the following in these countries:

  • Organisations to deliver sports based approaches in communities where they can demonstrate people are at high risk of developing mental health problems.
  • Organisations to deliver sports based approaches who are working with those already experiencing mental health problems.

In the UK we will focus on supporting organisations to use sports based approaches to support people who are already experiencing mental health problems, whether these are self-determined or diagnosed.


We have identified some key principles for the funding call which we encourage you to take into consideration, to ensure projects are well designed and have every opportunity to succeed. These principles are the result of desk based research and consultation with academics and practitioners working in the sector.  These principles apply to both the UK and international territories.

1. Focus on improving mental wellbeing and helping people function better

Due to the range of cultural limitations around the issues of mental health, the relevance of sport across a range of mental health problems and the underlying stigma often associated with it, the fund will focus on promoting the use of sports based approaches that support wellbeing, improve functioning and reduce distress. Organisations should consider the following components:

  • Social support: this is a person’s perception that they are cared for and that they know people who can help them. It’s an important component of wellbeing, and our research has suggested that programmes that increase participants’ perception of social support are likely to be more successful in improving wellbeing and mental health.
  • Self-esteem: this is a person’s confidence in their own worth or abilities. Another important component of wellbeing, our research suggested that physical activity can boost self-esteem by giving participants the sense that they had achieved something through participation. Improving skills can give participants a sense of mastery, and improved perceptions of their competence, physical skills and body image.
  • Addressing stigma: There is recognition that sport is likely to be a highly acceptable, non-stigmatising, route to improved mental health. We therefore encourage you to consider the role of sport in improving wellbeing where stigma is present. This is because while in some contexts a medical diagnostic label can be valuable to someone, for example in helping someone to find a community with shared experiences, in places where there is still high stigma around mental health problems this is much less likely to be true.

2. Ensure mental health is intentional, not incidental

The fund will prioritise organisations running programmes which combine sport or physical activities with specific therapeutic elements, and who have access to mental health expertise.

Applications should have a clear theory of change for how your approach will affect wellbeing, showing an understanding of the existing evidence. Your application should be able to demonstrate how what you will do contributes to key outcomes that support wellbeing.

We understand you may need additional time to refine your theory of change before the project delivery starts, and we will allow you up to 6 months of your project period to do this. Our funding can be used to pay for this. All projects must use sport as a tool for change in the approach.

3. Sustained support for individuals and in communities

We will prioritise interventions which are embedded in local communities and which actively build local capacity and can demonstrate how they will continue once this funding finishes.

4. Quality and support of delivery staff

The quality of delivery staff is key to the effectiveness of the programme. We know that the relationships formed between participants and delivery staff is central to whether a programme has a positive impact on the mental health of participants. Because delivery staff are so central to successful programmes, it’s important to consider that delivery staff need to:

  • Understand the purpose of the programme and the needs of the participants
  • Be able to talk about their feelings with participants
  • Not have prejudices that affect their role
  • Understand that their role is about support
  • Be supported with their own wellbeing (e.g. through induction, regular supervision and annual reviews)

5. Partnerships and working collaboratively

We believe that projects developed and delivered in partnership with the people they aim to serve will be more effective in creating positive social change. Projects like this are more likely to respond to the priorities of the people they are trying to reach and be more able to identify appropriate solutions. Empowering participants to be part of the process can give them a sense of ownership of the project, helps build confidence and trust, and has the potential to strengthen community cohesion.

We encourage organisations to apply in partnership for this fund, particularly if you have identified a gap in expertise around either mental health or sport for change in your organisation


We seek to work with organisations that share our commitment to learning – it is central to much of what we do at Comic Relief. For that reason, we invest in organisations that can:

  • Be self-reflective; considering which aspects of project delivery are working well, which aspects are less successful and why.
  • Feed learning back into service delivery, with a desire for continual improvement.
  • Respond to changing contexts and emerging needs – the issues you are dealing with may change over time and your work may need to respond to that.
  • Engage with other Comic Relief grantees, where appropriate, practical and valuable. We  see  real  value  in  organisations coming  together  to learn from each other where they have shared approaches, target  groups, contexts  and  challenges.
  • Share learning externally, to support wider learning and coordination in the sector.


  • In the UK we will focus on supporting organisations to use sports based approaches to support people who are already experiencing mental health problems, whether these are self-determined or diagnosed.
  • In Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda, we will support the following:
    • Organisations to deliver sports based approaches in communities where they can demonstrate people are at high risk of developing mental health problems.
    • Organisations to deliver sports based approaches who are working with those already experiencing mental health problems.
  • All projects must use sport as a tool for change in the approach. Comic Relief’s Sport for Change strategy aims to bring about positive social change for individuals and communities through the intentional use of sport and physical activity. Please read our guide to developing a sport for change programme before you apply.
  • Funding is available for a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 5 years
  • Applications are welcome for £150,000 to £450,000
  • Projects must be delivered in the UK, Ghana, Rwanda or Uganda. Applications for work in more than one country will be considered, however the capacity of an organisation to manage the work will be assessed.
  • We are happy to cover the full cost of delivering a service or project, so please take a full cost recovery approach to your application budget.

Please note that organisations cannot submit an application to this fund as well as to the “Bridging the Gaps: Working Together to Strengthen Mental Health Support for Children and Young People” Fund that will be open for applications from 6 May 2019. You can only submit an application to one of the funding calls. 


  • Proposals can be made by single applicants, or by organisations working in partnership
  • Organisations can only submit one proposal as the lead organisation (though they can be named as partners on any number of applications).
  • The applicant must not have an annual income of less than £75,000 or more than £10 million.
  • The requested amount must be proportionate to the annual income of your organisation, and this will be looked at as part of the assessment process. We aim to fund no more than 40% of your organisation’s total income in any one year.


Please note that there is a two-stage application process.

  • The deadline for the first stage applications will be 1200 GMT on Friday 31ST May 2019.
  • If your application is shortlisted you will be given a further 4 weeks to submit a full proposal, and the deadline for second stage applications will be 1200 GMT on Friday 9th August 2019.
  • Stage two proposals will then be shortlisted for a full assessment
  • Once assessments are completed, the funding decisions will be made by the Comic Relief Trustees by the end of January 2020.


At stage 1, the following are some of the things we will want you to explain.

  • The people who will benefit, and the problems they face in their lives
  • The changes you expect to see as a result of your proposed work
  • The types and numbers of people benefitting directly, including core target groups, frontline workers and other direct beneficiaries
  • What you will do to help people to address their problems
  • The location and duration of this work
  • The total amount of funding requested per year, and for each of the funded partners
  • For your organisation and any funded partner: the organisation’s purpose, what it is most proud of, and why it is well placed to carry out this work

If you want, you can include a video of up to two minutes to summarise what you want us fund.  Please note, however, that this is not a requirement.

Download the Stage 1 proposal guidance here.


If your proposal is approved for stage two some of the things you will need to explain are the following (complete guidance for the full proposal will be made available to successful applicants at stage two).

  • Why you think this approach will be effective
  • Who will be involved in delivering the activities, and what they will do
  • How you involved the target groups in developing the initiative, and how you will listen and respond to them during its delivery
  • Risks for beneficiaries, staff or others in the community and how these will be mitigated
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning, including what you will track to show change is happening, what you want to learn, and how you will use the learning
  • How your organisation has managed safeguarding concerns
  • A detailed budget, including details of match-funding or value in-kind contributions.
  • More information about each partner organisation and their annual finances, key organisational policies, and constitutional documents.


It is important to review Comic Relief’s funding eligibility criteria

If you have further questions you can email

If we receive a significant number of FAQs, we will aim to publish them here.

Please submit questions by Monday 13th May and we will aim to publish them on Friday 17th May 2019.

For more information,please visit


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