A key priority set out in Active Essex’s strategy was to improve the outcomes for people’s long-term health and wellbeing. Changing behaviours through a targeted approach, resulted in an increase in activity levels amongst under-represented groups in Greater Essex. This had a positive impact on residents’ physical, mental health and wellbeing.
Active Essex wanted to support the NHS in enabling more adults and children to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It was important to promote the benefits of being active, encouraging people to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing, and to make better lifestyle choices. It’s a fact that participation in regular physical activity can reduce stress, anxiety and increase self-esteem, which enhances our wellbeing. Even just 10 minutes of brisk walking can increase mental alertness, energy and improve your mood. The term ‘physical activity’ is now being used more widely, with the recognition that being physically active can be achieved in many different forms and ways that suit each individual.
At the beginning of our strategy in 2017, the picture in Essex looked like this:
The Essex Joint Health and Wellbeing strategy identified mental health as a high priority on the agenda of all partners in Essex. Hosted by Essex County Council, in 2016, Active Essex became part of the Public Health team to further position physical activity in the health and wellbeing sector. Following on from this, Active Essex’s Director, Jason Fergus, joined the senior leadership team, which initiated close working relationships across the county.
In 2017 Public Health Practitioners were appointed by the local authorities to support the development of local health and wellbeing strategies and boards. Active Essex went on to build strong relationships with all Public Health Practitioners to highlight the importance of physical activity. This has now become a key factor within Greater Essex health and wellbeing strategies. A wider audience engagement and an increase in activity, has been made possible through the relationship managers partnership work at a local level.
Relationships within the health system have grown to include Clinical Commissioning Groups, Acute Hospital Trusts, and at a national level, Public Health England. Active Essex supported the rollout of the National Public Health England programme ‘Moving Healthcare Professional’. This equipped the healthcare professionals to develop their skills and confidence around the benefits of physical activity and the ability to have a conversation with patients about being active.
Over the lifespan of the strategy, Active Essex have upskilled the sport and physical activity workforce in mental health awareness. This has allowed projects to have a holistic approach to combating inactivity and broadened the workforces’ knowledge in improving health and wellbeing. Active Essex replicated the UK Coaching campaign locally using Mind's 'Return to Play' document to support this, as well as Mental Health Champions within Essex FA and Essex Netball. It’s become extremely important for Active Essex to ensure that their staff, as well as other workforces, are mental health first aid trained.
By localising national campaigns, Active Essex were able to tailor relevant messaging to local communities. An example of this was the ‘Better Health’ campaign, which launched in 2020 after Covid-19 had given us all a wake-up call. The campaign was aimed at inactive, overweight and elderly residents, which inspired individuals to move more and eat better, helping to improve their physical and mental health. Due to the pandemic, evidence emerged that if individuals in this target audience were to contract Covid-19, they would more likely be admitted to hospital. Through resources, videos and support, the Better Health campaign provided much needed motivation, for residents to change their lifestyle habits as we headed into the winter months.
Long-Term Health Conditions and Disability
Soon after the conception of the strategy, it became apparent that Long Term Health Conditions (LTHC) and disability needed to be a key focus within the health and wellbeing priority. Following in Sport England’s footsteps, Active Essex adopted the We Are Undefeatable campaign, to help people with health conditions find a way to get active. LTHC include Diabetes, Dementia, Parkinson’s, Cancer and Arthritis.
In support of the national campaign, Active Essex shared stories from Essex residents living with a long-term health condition to help show how physical activity, not only helps manage their condition, but improves their mental health and wellbeing.
Sport for Confidence
It has been important for Active Essex to develop key strong relationships with organisations across the county to help achieve a strong workforce across the sector and ensure all targeted audiences have physical activity opportunities available to them. One of these key relationships is with Sport for Confidence. Active Essex has been working with Sport for Confidence since its inception in 2015 and for the duration of their strategy. Sport for Confidence places health professionals and coaches into leisure centres to provide inclusive sporting opportunities for people who face barriers to participation. This can include those living with learning disabilities, mental health conditions, dementia, autism, physical impairments, homelessness and many other complex health needs.
At the beginning of our ‘Changing One Million Lives’ strategy in 2017, Sport for Confidence was operating solely in Basildon Sporting Village. Due to Active Essex’s part in securing funding from Essex County Council Public Health and their continued support, Sport for Confidence now deliver in 8 additional leisure centres across Greater Essex.
In order to develop their work around health and wellbeing organisations even further, Active Essex, have been in partnership with Pure Training and Development, to host a series of long-term health condition workshops for the sport and physical activity sector. The training was designed to provide up-to-date knowledge of Diabetes, Dementia and Cancer for health professionals, sport deliverers and volunteers; enabling them to work safely and effectively alongside individuals living with these conditions.