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20 Jan 2021 | 19:19

Mini Mermaid Running Club offers programmes for schoolgirls, aged seven to 11, which combine physical activity and mindfulness to strengthen self-confidence and self-esteem. As part of our ‘Adapt, Support, Respond’ campaign, executive director Hannah Corne talks about how the club is adapting provision during lockdown and beyond. 

In lockdown three, we are focusing our efforts on helping schools support vulnerable children, and children of key workers, who are in school during this time. In conversations with schools in the previous lockdowns, we heard that our Mini Mermaids and Young Tritons programmes gave the children, and staff something fun to look forward to each week. Behavioural psychology shows that having something to look forward to and having fun reduces cortisol levels (which induce stress) and supports creativity, energy, productivity, and overall cognition. In a time when children had few outlets and options, Mini Mermaid and Young Tritons provided that opportunity.

Mini Mermaid Running Club UK

Also, we know that any programme must be turnkey and adaptable to fit within the school environment. Schools were deemed THE safe space for children - to learn, to socialise, to grow. With everything schools are asked to do, we have made sure that our programmes are easy to activate and provide everything schools would need to deliver them. We want to make sure we are creating opportunities and resources that schools can tap into to help children in their recovery,  including through play, games and physical activity.

Over the coming months when we emerge from lockdown, we hope to bring Mini Mermaids and Young Triton programmes to UK primary schools. The purpose of our programmes includes building resilience, confidence and compassion among children, underpinned by a love of physical activity. As a nation, we began recognising the powerful impact movement has on the health and wellbeing of children, so much so that OFSTED and the UK Medical Officers updated guidelines to stress its value. Conversely, studies have shown the negative impact the lack of physical activity has had on children during lockdown. This is the outcome we want to offset.


Our programmes create a sense of community and comfort for children as they emerge from this period of uncertainty and limited social interaction. While having fun with different forms of movement, they can share and process their thoughts and feelings. Also, the programme’s 5km challenge provides children with a goal towards which they can work and an accomplishment they can celebrate – which is in itself an element that we miss, and which often inspires families to get active. Children (and girls in particular) have seen the pandemic impact their self-esteem and confidence; through our programmes, we can help to rebuild those foundations. 

We have a reserve and are fortunate to have grants from committed organisations like London Sport, the Jane Tomlison Appeal and King Baudouin Foundation/Nike Community Fund, but this lockdown will impact our sustainability. In the initial lockdown and the autumn 2020 term, schools were still uncertain about what restrictions they would need to have in place and how best to manage new health and safety guidelines. We were able to repurpose some grants to offer modified programming to schools in areas of deprivation in lockdown one and two. As schools became more comfortable with their environment, we again saw an uptick in the number of schools interested in our programmes. Going into spring 2020, Mini Mermaids and Young Triton were on course to see a 50% year-on-year growth, continuing our consistent upward trajectory. While ideally, we would like to return to those numbers by the end of 2021, the next few months will play a significant role in our ability to return to those levels.

Mini Mermaid Running Club UK participant

We hope that our organisation can make a significant contribution to the recovery from the pandemic. We took the time over the summer to speak with schools and organisations in the sector and, across the board, we heard how vital our programmes will be as part of the “recovery curriculum”. The seriousness and longevity of the pandemic’s effect cannot be understated. We won’t know the exact extent of the pandemic on the mental, emotional and physical health of the nation for months, if not years. And the already large cracks around inequalities among lower socio-economic and ethnic groups have turned into chasms.

But we do know some vital truths. Being active supports children’s wellbeing in so many ways. It helps with anxiety and depression. It can support a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence. It provides a vehicle to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s going on around them. Probably more than anything, we just help kids be kids again. As part of the Sport for Development Coalition, we want to be one of many options that schools and communities can consider to find the most effective solutions to support their specific needs.