Highgate mental health worker crowned football hero by Thierry Henry and Arsenal

A mental health worker who uses football as a means to heal people has been crowned a community hero by professional footballer Thierry Henry.

Robert Lall, who is the football and sports lead at Highgate Mental Health Centre in Dartmouth Park Hill, received the award from the star striker at the Emirates Stadium.

It was in recognition of his work with the Arsenal in the Community programme, which runs twice weekly football matches for local people with mental health problems.

The 36-year-old, who is actually a Liverpool fan, said: “I use football as a way of engaging with people with mental health issues.

“It’s a very positive recognition for the necessary work that we do so I feel quite proud of that.

“It’s also a positive step forward that the more recognition our intervention gets the more value is added to the project and hopefully the more sustainable the project becomes.”

Mr Lall, from Highbury, has been running his programme for three-and-a-half years, having previously worked as a clinical support worker, helping people move from hospitals and hostels.

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“What I recognised in those days was that a lot of clients I was seeing were young males who weren’t really keen on engaging in mental health services as a whole but they were happy to play football,” he said.

He had groups together playing football in the community when Arsenal approached him.

“The reality is the football is the card, in terms of getting people there,” said Mr Lall.

“Everything else happens in that dynamic. They get improved social networks.

“For individuals who would have otherwise been completely isolated, meeting new people and having some form of social interaction is really important.

“For their physical health they’re getting a minimum of four hours exercise a week, whereas before these individuals weren’t really doing anything

“Healthy lifestyles change people. Individuals have given up smoking and drinking alcohol, and the improvements they’ve made have been huge.”

Mr Lall also received tickets to an Arsenal game and congratulations in a match programme.