A WIRRAL early intervention service for mental healthcare set up during the COVID-19 lockdown has announced Manchester United legend Lee Martin as its first ambassador.

Martin, who scored the winning goal for Manchester United during the 1990 FA Cup Final, will now champion the work of JourneyMEN, which is based in Birkenhead.

The announcement comes as Lee heads back to Wembley this weekend for the semi-final of this year's FA Cup, which is running a mental health campaign called Heads Up FA Cup.

It aims to encourage men to talk about their mental health issues as readily as they chat to each other about football.

Recognising the crucial work delivered by JourneyMEN, Lee said: "mental health problems can be complex and deep-rooted. Often men just need a way to talk through their problems and issues in a comfortable and supportive environment - JourneyMEN offers that."

Now living and working in Cheshire where he has helped young people find jobs or apprenticeships, Lee joins JourneyMEN during very challenging and unprecedent times caused by the COVID-19 lockdown, which has made access to mental healthcare essential, now more than ever.

He added: "It has never been more vital than now during the current coronavirus crisis that men get the support they need.

"I was keen to lend my support after hearing about the wonderful front-line work of JourneyMEN to help men who would otherwise find it difficult to access local services." 

Lee was launched as a JourneyMEN ambassador onboard YMCA Wirral's Potential narrowboat along the Shropshire Union Canal, which JourneyMEN plans to use to provide 'floating counselling' sessions with now that more lockdown restrictions have been eased.

Wirral Globe:

Lee Martin takes the helm of JourneyMEN's mental health campaign. Picture: Harry Leahey

Keen to express his support for this unique approach to delivering mental healthcare, Lee said: "It's a great idea, what it can give to men around the Wirral and beyond will be hugely beneficial.

"They can come out into the countryside, relax, talk to whoever is on the boat and they won't realise their doing it.

"I think it will happen very naturally.

"It's a great facility."

Since opening in April, JourneyMEN has since helped more than 60 men and their families - over half of those men after having attempted suicide or expressed suicidal thoughts.

This has partly been thanks to its one-to-one counselling sessions, walk and talk events and fishing club activities, which are meant to help encourage social interaction among its registered men.

Wirral Globe:

Lee Martin with JourneyMEN CEO Phil Roberts onboard the Potential narrowboat.  Picture: Harry Leahey

Despite being a lifelong Liverpool fan, JourneyMEN CEO Phil Roberts said he was "delighted" with Lee's willingness to get involved.

He said: "I am very happy to be associated with a Manchester United player, as his ambassadorship for JourneyMEN is for such good reasons and for a worthwhile cause.

"The timing is perfect as well as we come towards the FA Cup semi-final, which of course will be raising awareness of mental health and breaking down that stigma of it, something we at JourneyMEN care very deeply about."