A DAD-OF-THREE and granddad-of-four has been honoured with an MBE in the King's Honours List for his services within the NHS, sport, education, and mental health.

Originally from Wigan, Ernie Benbow has dedicated his life and career to the public sector and spent 36 years working as an HR professional and executive director within the NHS, including 13 years with the St Helens and Knowsley NHS team.

A Rainhill resident for the past 45 years, Ernie began stepping up his volunteer work once he took a step back from the NHS, and became one of the leading voices in campaigning for mental health awareness in sport and improved player representation within rugby league.

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Ernie with former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg Ernie with former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Image: Ernie Benbow)
Following on from the tragic suicide of former Wigan Warriors hooker Terry Newton in 2010, Ernie wrote an article for a rugby league newspaper about the safeguarding procedures that clubs should have in place to protect players' welfare and mental health.

As another similar article was written in the newspaper at the time, a mental health professional contacted the pair and later launched the 'State of Mind' charity to improve and raise awareness of mental health within rugby league.

With a dedicated rugby league fixture dedicated to State of Mind, the charity has had a lasting impact within rugby league and the wider sporting community, with Ernie also helping to draft the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation from grassroots to professional sport.

Ernie with Super League players at the launch of the '1eagu3' players associationErnie with Super League players at the launch of the first rugby league players association (Image: Ernie Benbow)
Around the same time, Ernie also began working with Super League players to help establish the first Professional Players Association to improve their representation and agency within the game, and later helped out with the 'Sporting Memories' charity to combat isolation and mental health difficulties through sport and communication.

In addition to this, the 71-year-old has also served as governor of Sutton Manor primary school since 2011, and as chair of governors since 2016, as well as a governor of Eaves primary school since 2022.

Working alongside the school leadership teams, Ernie has overseen five successful Ofsted inspections at both schools.

Ernie receiving an award at the Houses of Parliament in 2014Ernie receiving an award at the Houses of Parliament in 2014 (Image: Ernie Benbow)
Ernie said: "It is great to see the impact the State of Mind charity has had, and continues to have across rugby league and sport more generally.

"There was an increasing acknowledgment of not only how important the physical side of the game is, but the mental side too, as sometimes there is no getting away from mental health struggles.

"We've been able to develop this idea from the professional game through tpo the grassroots, although I was certainly not alone in growing this idea.

"I have had a lot people helping out in all the volunteer work that I've done [...] including the amazing teachers and leadership team at Sutton Manor and Eaves." 

With the MBE a hugely proud honour for Ernie and his family, he will receive the medal at a Royal residence at a later date.