Fishing their way to better mental health - new Bristol wellbeing initiative on city harbourside

The new angling coaching programme is helping local people generate long-term mental health benefits

A new wellbeing initiative that uses fishing to improve mental health has been launched in Bristol. Angling has become hugely popular since the pandemic, with the Environment Agency reporting 100,000 more fishing licences being sold in 2020.

The interest in angling has also increased thanks to the TV fishing series Mortimer and Whitehouse. And now a new angling coaching programme is helping local community groups in Bristol to generate long-term mental health benefits as part of wellbeing activities.

The Angling Trust has made Bristol Harbourside the flagship South West community fishing hub as part of its We Fish As One campaign.

This local scheme has worked with community groups to train up new angling coaches from inner-city and East Bristol areas so that community events at the harbourside can continue sustainably and discover the next generation of anglers.

Since July 2022, ten complete beginners from Bristol have been trained up as ‘level 1’ coaches to help deliver more local events within the community.

The initiative is a partnership between The Angling Trust, Sirona care & health and The West of England Sport Trust (wesport).

The campaign is part-funded by Sport England and the Environment Agency to address barriers to inclusivity in the sport and ensure as many people in communities across the South West get access to its benefits.

Three coaching events have been held at Bristol Harbouside since the summer, with people from Bristol’s Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Somali communities.

The first stage is completion of the ‘level one’ certificate, which covers practical, theoretical, ethical and safe coaching.

The idea for the scheme came from Shahnaz Chowdhury of Sirona care and health’s ‘Health Links’ team.

The fishing initiative has been working with communities in east Bristol and inner city areas of the city

Shahnaz said: “When visiting Eastville Park during lockdown, I saw people fishing in the lake and the idea sparked from there. We then made contact with several organisations including Fishwish, Alcove Angling Club, and Angling Trust.”

Dean Asplin, Angling Development Manager South with the Angling Trust said: “It’s brilliant that Sirona care and health wanted to work with us and gain interest from Bristol communities in fishing.

“We’ve wanted to set up events in Bristol for a while, and this felt like a real opportunity to open some doors. We had a blast and the sessions were well received.

“Everyone caught a fish, the sun stayed shining and I was impressed with the commitment in trying something new.”

“Even those not keen to touch maggots for bait were baiting their own hooks within ten minutes - as the desire to catch more fish took over!”

“Organisers found the event was easy to plan, at no cost, and bought together people across the community from all backgrounds – making it an intergenerational and inclusive place to be.”

Lucy Golding, the Wellbeing Lead (Inner City and East Bristol) at Sirona care & health said: “We have enjoyed working in partnership with The West of England Sport Trust (wesport) and the Angling Trust.

“Within Sirona, I have worked collaboratively with Shahnaz Chowdhury and Henrietta Fung from the Health Links Team to widen access and opportunity for local people to try out fishing.

“Some attendees had never been to Bristol Harbour or even outside since the Covid Pandemic. Feedback demonstrated that it really supported wellbeing and I’m so pleased that from these sessions a number of people have now become Level 1 Fishing Coaches.

“This will support the long term sustainability of widening access to fishing and wellbeing.”