War hero visits LJMU in battle for mental health


National hero Phil Packer MBE visited Liverpool John Moores University today (Jan 30) as part of a campaign for better student mental health.

The award-winning charity activist, who recovered from severe war wounds to row across the English Channel, greeted students from the LJMU rowing team and the president of the Students Minds mental health support group.

In what marked his first visit to LJMU, Packer has visited universities from across the country to raise awareness for his latest fundraising campaign, Row Britannia, for Sport Relief.

Packer, 48, is asking for each university and their students to row a collective 2,020 miles to raise vital funds and increase positive awareness of mental health issues for young people.

Investing in mental health

The campaign hopes to raise £1.5 million for mental health charities for students and young people's charities such as BRIT, Papyrus, Student Minds, the Matthew Elvidge Trust and the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. LJMU and its partners were recently awarded £575k to develop mental health provisions for students across Liverpool.

Students from the LJMU Rowing Club, which operates out of the Albert Dock and has 70 members, were excited to meet the heroic charity worker.

Captain of the Women’s team, Alice Flynn, said: “It’s a privilege to meet Phil – he’s such an inspiration.”

The Club has signed up for the challenge and is eager to take part, with Flynn adding: “We’d be delighted to get the word out about this challenge.”

Student Minds

Student Amy Gault, who is the president of the LJMU Students Minds mental health support group, believes the challenge is a noble cause. She said: “Mental health is such a huge issue at the moment but it still needs a lot of funding and promotion to show how much it really matters.

“It was fantastic to meet Phil and to be invited to join this adventure; it’s a really inclusive idea, which is not just for sporty people, and we hope the whole university community gets involved.”

Packer suffered serious injuries while serving with the British military in Iraq in 2008. Despite being told he would never walk again, by 2009 he rowed the English Channel and later that year completed his first marathon.

He has since completed physical challenges in support of his charity, the British Inspiration Trust (BRIT) and won awards for his noble work such as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award. He has raised around £650,000 for war wounded. 

Saving lives

Packer, who was given a tour of Sport & Exercise Science facilities at LJMU by Head of Department Professor Dave Richardson, is eager for his latest challenge to be completed and believes it is incredibly important. He said: “If you take part you will save lives. Everyone will save lives.

“There’s a mental health crisis. It’s very complex and there are a lot of pressures that are piled on students. We need organisations to work together to raise the money to help. Row Britannia is just a conduit to champion this mission.”

Packer was originally set to complete the latest challenge himself and row 2,020 miles around the United Kingdom. But after serious health complications in 2015, and after losing four stone, doctors have advised him not to complete his mission as it could cause long-term damage.

On these health issues, Packer said: “(Due to complications) I was losing a lot of weight. I lost four stone. I felt fatigued and could barely travel. I’ve been so used to getting up and going out. It was debilitating.”


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