Special Recognition: An award for a mental health champion

Nurse Mark Field, who dedicates his free time to a boxing club that supports adults and children with mental health problems, has been honoured with our first-ever Special Recognition Award
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Mark Field

Nurse Mark Field, who dedicates his free time to a boxing club that supports adults and children with mental health problems, has been honoured with our first-ever Special Recognition Award

Mental health nurse Mark Field has spent more than 20 years dedicating his free time to supporting adults and children with mental health problems, despite his own challenging diagnosis.

His achievements and approach to nursing so impressed the RCNi Nurse Awards judges that for the first time in the event’s 31-year history they asked for a Special Recognition Award to be granted in his honour.

Watch: RCNi Nurse Awards 2018 Special Recognition Award winner Mark Field on his winning project


Judge Joanne Bosanquet, deputy chief nurse at Public Health England, sums up the judging panel’s thoughts: ‘When you first meet Mark and see his boxer’s hands he does not seem your typical nurse. But he is so inspiring, so hands-on, so non-judgemental.

‘His story is one of triumph over adversity… He is such an important role model’

Joanne Bosanquet, awards judge

‘His story is one of triumph over adversity, and we were struck at how he openly recognised and talked about his own mental health. He is such an important role model to other men. And he has helped people with mental health problems on such a large scale – into the thousands. And for decades. He is remarkable.’

A different kind of boxing champion

Mr Field, a senior nurse at St Mary’s Hospital rehabilitation centre in Warrington, runs a boxing club at Buckley in North Wales. This is his story, in his own words:

I was an amateur boxer about to go professional with the opportunity to fight Joe Calzaghe (former world champion) when I went for an MRI scan and they found a frontal lobe cyst on my brain. My doctor was blunt: ‘Your career is over.’

I went into depression for about a year. Then one day I ended up in another part of the country, not having any clue how I drove there. More disappointment – I was later diagnosed with rapid bipolar disorder.

‘I realised I could help them’

I was a healthcare assistant at the time and had four young children, so I decided to do my nurse training and at the same time to open my own club, Buckley Boxing Gym, even though friends warned me it would be like rubbing salt into the wounds.

I was working with clients in hospital during my nurse training when I realised I could help them with their physical awareness. I spoke to the consultant and asked if on my days off I could bring the clients to my gym to help them improve their physical health and achieve their goals such as weight targets in a normal setting. I have carried on to this day, 23 years down the line.

It was challenging at the start, but clients became more confident in their exercise. Also the group felt like a family setting – they felt part of the group. They wouldn’t carry on their exercise after being discharged at a local fitness centre because they felt ostracised – there is stigma attached to being a mental health patient. But they will still come to my gym.

‘Children come here to enjoy physical exercise in a normal setting with other children. They feel that they are part of something when they are here. They are not segregated. There is no stigma at our club’

Jim, who has schizophrenia, has been with us ten years taking subs and chatting to parents. It gives him a sense of self-worth and he has not been admitted to hospital once, due to his involvement at the gym. James was heavily into drug abuse but we have since trained him to be a qualified coach and now he works with the younger generation and helps them.


Mark Field: ‘I am passionate about my job.’
Picture: David Gee

Children come here with mental health problems and they come to enjoy physical exercise in a normal setting with other children the same age. They feel that they are part of something when they are here. We take them out on day trips with the club. They are not segregated. There is no stigma at our club.

Many are referred by social services for a ten-week block and after that finishes they continue to come on their own.

We run the club six days a week, junior and senior sessions, and we offer an under-nines session. Some of the children have mental health problems and others have ADHD, and the exercise really helps.

‘I involve the families’

After joining the club they have respect, discipline, and their behaviour is much better. Mum and dad feedback how dramatic the change is.

I involve the families so they can see what we do. We are not a crèche.

If the child has behaviour problems, I tell the parents: ‘I want you to come along and see your son and daughter and how hard they work. We give out medals in the under-nine group if the child does a bit better than the week before. It’s positive reinforcement – you should see their little faces.

There is nothing in the community for kids. This is a place where they feel safe.

‘I have been in really dark places but when the coaches see that, they step in. Everyone looks after each other’

The club is a family. One boy, Jordan, who was referred to us, became a different person, his sleeping and communication was much better. Sadly, he died – the hardest thing was when his mum asked me to put his kit in the coffin. But we mark his anniversary as a club, to say to other children there is a chance to change.

I was invited to the local school’s Christmas assembly and discussed a seven-year-old pupil with the headmaster. The boy had temper outbursts during which he acted before he thought. He joined our club and he has learnt to respect others in the gym and community, which has helped with his behaviour.

With my own mental health, it has been difficult at times. I still have to deal with my diagnosis on a daily basis. I am holding a senior nurse role with determination, which at times is very difficult. I have been in really dark places but when the coaches see that, they step in. Everyone looks after each other. All the coaches volunteer their time to run the sessions. I am so proud of everyone at the club.

‘Helping people is important’

I bring my nursing skills and if someone needs me they can call me anytime. I do go beyond because I am passionate about my job. It’s just helping people isn’t it, and that’s important. I’ll probably be 60, 80 and I’ll still be here doing the same thing.

I am still in contact with clients from more than 20 years ago. I still visit them. I think it is important that although they have been discharged they have not gone, they are part of me as I have nursed them.

Maybe God is looking down on me and saying you were not supposed to box but this is what you are meant to do. I am passionate about what I do and proud to be part of the RCNi Nurse Awards.

Making a difference to young lives

The young people who attend Mark Field’s boxing club say his support and encouragement have made a huge difference to their lives.

James now volunteers as a coach at the club, having been referred there as a child. 

‘I came to the boxing club when I was eight years old with low self-esteem and confidence and low mood.

‘Mark’s given me a chance to grow as a person, to develop from a boxer into a boxing coach, to teach the kids and adults here, to give them a skill and to support them with the many mental health issues they may be undergoing.

‘An inspiration’

‘I’m in a great place now and it’s all down to one person – Mark. Because he’s boosted my self-esteem, he’s boosted my confidence greatly. He’s just amazing. He has supported me all the way. It’s a really great thing what Mark does here. He is an inspiration.’

Another boy, Sasha, also credits Mark with helping him turn his life around.

‘I was in a bit of trouble in the past when living in Chester, with police issues, but in the end when I kept coming here Mark and James helped me overcome that. I stopped getting into trouble and now I’m a bit more respectful and everything is all sorted, everything is good.’

Elaine Cole is managing editor, Nursing Standard