Edge Hill University Professor Andy Smith shakes hands with British boxing legend Frank Bruno

Former British boxing world heavyweight champion, Frank Bruno, has spoken of his admiration of the facilities available to students at Edge Hill University, and also of the leading teaching and research which students experience in relation to sport and mental health.

The popular Londoner, who fulfilled a lifelong dream when defeating Oliver McCall to claim the WBC title at the fourth time of asking 24 years ago, was on campus to deliver a Q&A with Professor Andy Smith (Department of Sport and Physical Activity), as part of the Emergency Services Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference hosted at the Faculty of Health, Social Care & Medicine.

In a wide-ranging session, he spoke of his career in and out of the ring, his childhood and family life, his battles with mental health and subsequent aftercare, the effects of his involvement in the phone hacking scandal, as well as his charitable foundation.

Happily posing for pictures and chatting to the public throughout the afternoon as he toured the University’s award-winning campus and met members of staff from the Department of Sport and Physical Activity, he was extremely complimentary of the University. Frank said:

“There’s great facilities here, different buildings set-up focusing on different areas of study. The sports centre is impressive, which the public can enjoy, and which can help people to look after themselves.

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of facilities being shut down all over the country but to see something like this is encouraging.”

The British boxing legend also revealed how he could only have dreamed of being given the opportunity to experience higher education and studied at places like Edge Hill. Recalling some of his experiences, which included being sent to Borstal youth detention centre at the age of 12, he said:

“I had dyslexia, I struggled academically, and I didn’t come out of school with any qualifications. I’d loved to have gone to college, gone to university…I’d loved to have studied somewhere like this. But boxing is the only thing I could do.”

Dr Evelyn Carnegie, Head of the Department of Sport and Physical Activity, said:

“We were delighted to welcome Frank Bruno to the University and to hear his enthusiasm for the benefits of studying at places like Edge Hill. He was extremely complimentary about the campus, the learning opportunities available for students to study subjects in sport and physical activity (and beyond), and our commitment to providing students with high quality teaching and research, including in relation to sport and mental health.”

 Andy and Frank in discussion

Having twice been sectioned and struggled with mental illness since his retirement from the sport, Frank spoke out about his own treatment and aftercare, and the improvements that could be made to help others, particularly those without the celebrity status his achievements afforded.

“I’m no different, no better than anyone else. When I was boxing there was no time to worry about my mental health, it was no time for stress, my focus was on providing for my family. It was afterwards I began to struggle.

“Without the routine, being home more…I became drained, lethargic, anxious, personal issues began to take their toll. I was working too hard, was feeling pressured. Of course, I’m a man, with a macho image, I thought I could handle it. I was sad, lonely. It wasn’t nice, it was a horrible experience.

“But lessons need to be learned in how patients are treated, how they are spoken to. They are humans going through a difficult time, respect, manners, would be helpful. Get to the route of the problem. It’s an embarrassing time for them. Talk to them on a level, you’ll get a better response. Understanding is key to respecting mental health.”

Andy Smith, Frank Bruno and Everton in the Community’s Michael Salla in the Sports Centre at Edge Hill

Bruno’s experience of mental illness and commitment to helping others have led to the establishment of the Frank Bruno Foundation, which recently announced it is to open its first base, in Northampton. Offering 12-week courses in non-contact boxing, it will provide an opportunity for people to get active and provide a focus in their lives. Frank discussed the Foundation’s work with Professor Andy Smith and Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community (the official charity of Everton Football Club), whose sport and mental health work is similar to that of the Frank Bruno Foundation. Professor Smith said:

“Given his personal experiences and the focus of the Frank Bruno Foundation, Frank was extremely interested in how our teaching and research in sport and mental health not only helps to advance understanding in the area but also how it can be used to make a positive impact on the lives of others. This was particularly true in relation to our sport, education and mental health programme, Tackling the Blues, which we and the Faculty of Education provide with Everton in the Community to children and young people across Merseyside, Lancashire and Sefton.”

Michael Salla added:

“It was a privilege to discuss Everton in the Community’s life-saving mental health work with Frank Bruno, and especially our new People’s Place project which is a dedicated facility for anyone to promote good mental health and is, once again, being supported by Edge Hill as our academic partner. Frank was very complimentary of our immensely successful seven-year partnership with the University and its commitment to supporting the mental health needs of everyone, but especially those in greatest need, and we very much look forward to that continuing in the future.”

Click here for further details of the University’s sport and mental health work with Everton in the Community.

For more information about undergraduate and postgraduate courses provided by the Department of Sport and Physical Activity, including in relation to sport and mental health, click here.