Our thinking

This is a space for our thoughts, our personal reflections and opinion on the things which are affecting us at the moment. We're sharing, with the hope that we ask questions of ourselves and others and ultimately with the aim to make physical activity the norm.

Notts not moving

Clifton Bridge in Nottingham is broken – and because of this there is chaos on the roads around Nottingham. What was a 20-minute car journey, became a 3-hour crawl. A key arterial route which carried tens of thousands of East Midlander's each day was closed or at best down to one lane. Tempers were raised and many resorted to becoming a keyboard warrior with a newly acquired expertise in structural engineering – and they were ANGRY!

Comments on the social media frenzy resorted to blame, to incompetence, to exasperation and outrage. Very few of the comments looked at how we have created a situation that we are all complicit in creating – very few have held up the mirror to understand their part in this and what WE need to do about it.

What this situation has inadvertently highlighted is that Notts is Not Moving – we're simply all getting in our cars. This has not happened overnight, but as a result of many cultural and societal norms over time, it has become "the way it is" and now we respond with indignation when the wheels fall off.

I am not advocating that we all turn into car-haters overnight, just take the opportunity to stop and think how our inherent behavior of automatic entitlement has created this situation, not the crack in the bridge. What part can we play in this, in a not too dissimilar way that switching from plastic to paper straws is a small change we could make.

Hayley Lever in her recent blog articulated the following:

We have created and spread a story that we collectively believe to be true; that individual car ownership and use is a measure of our status in the world and being able to drive from A to B when we want, in our own private space is a human right. Public transport is for 'lesser' people with less money and control over their lives. Walking and cycling is too difficult, dangerous and takes too long.

  • It is normal to expect houses with car parking right outside, for two cars plus space for visitors
  • Jobs come with parking spaces, and our employers pay mileage for us to drive around from one meeting to another.
  • We construct our work culture around times and schedules that mean we have to drive our kids to school.
  • It is normal and culturally acceptable to apply for jobs that might take us an hour to drive to, without options to utilise more sustainable forms of transport.
  • We are expected to work in the office, when we could work more effectively where we are, for at least part of the week.
  • We design our transport infrastructure around cars not people, making it the easy option.
  • We measure traffic flow as a KPI, not people flow.
  • We have cities full of car parks instead of parks and open spaces.
  • We have schools with rows of idling cars churning out fumes, instead of families walking and riding to school together.

It got me thinking, how can we change the conversation from blame and outrage at the system to think about how we can change it? How can we make moving the easy option and design moving back into life? How can we get Notts Moving again, with sustainable journeys that are (partially) active? What's the small part we can play – our version of the plastic straw swap? I don't mean it in a preachy kind of way and expect everyone to lay down in the middle of the road in an outrageous protest style, or even lambast people in cars with a passive aggressive cold, hard stare – that's just not kind, helpful or my style. It starts with me looking in that rear view mirror at myself, what can I practically do and who can I have a conversation with to do similar?

Maybe the closure of the bridge will force this issue to be discussed for the benefit of our physical and mental health, our children's health and the environment? Or maybe we will continue to sit in our cars for hours on end, not moving and moaning at the broken bridge, the lack of workmen, Government Agencies, the Council, the police, the weather, a lack of funding, Brexit….(actual social media rants).

It's just something I have been thinking about (whilst sitting in traffic), and now I have written this it is a call to action for myself, starting with me and working out how can I change to me to we?

Social distancing and activity - our thoughts

Working from home is something that many people are used to. Here at Active Notts we are encouraged to work as flexibly as possible, hot desking between offices, working from home when needed, and using technology such as video conferencing to help us all work effectively and efficiently. Our culture, as you would expect, also encourages us all to work actively, whether that be walking or cycling to work, holding walking meetings and active lunch breaks, or just taking time at the end of the day to get out there and enjoy physical activity to stay fit, healthy and de-stress.

Now everyone is being asked to work from home if at all possible to do so and, even for those of us used to creating a makeshift office at the kitchen table - or getting comfy on the sofa with a laptop, this may mean an extended period at home working in isolation for longer than we have previously experienced.

So how can we make the best of this time, and ensure that despite some challenging circumstances we continue to stay active and keep a healthy body and mind? At Active Notts we are giving genuine thought to this to ensure the continued wellbeing of our staff, and perhaps give inspiration to our partners and the wider workforce. We are also keen to know what others are doing, so that we can share this too, and keep the momentum going in our quest to make physical activity, including sport, the norm for people who live, study and work in our communities.

As a team and a wider community, we're trying to build activity into our day as much as possible, and supporting those around us to be active in a way that suits them.

For now the commute to the office is out, but that doesn't have to mean physical activity has to be too. We are using the time we'd usually spend travelling to meetings as an opportunity to take a short walk or volunteer with local community groups to support those who are vulnerable or self-isolating – there are many ways in which we can help.

If you're fit and well you could also spend that journey time out in the fresh air going for a walk or jog (at a safe distance from others) or power-walking laps in the garden. Dust off that piece of gym equipment sitting in the spare room and schedule in some active breaks. Search YouTube and try a Joe Wicks 15-minute workout during lunch, or relax after a hard day at home with a spot of yoga.

If team sports are your thing, swap your usual team for Microsoft Teams – it's great for virtual meetings and sharing files, but it could also be used for sharing a workout, encouraging colleagues to be active together and keeping up with much-needed social interaction.

Whilst writing this, Sport England has also published a guide on 'How to stay active while you're at home', which as the name suggests includes a variety of tips on staying active at home, whatever your age or situation. It is also encouraging people to share some of the best ideas using the hashtag #StayInWorkOut

The BBC has also published 'Five ways to work well from home' which not only looks at how to maintain physical health, but also mental health by maintaining social contact through simple things like picking up the phone.

We think it's really important to take care of our own and others' mental health too so are taking the time to speak to colleagues during the day, whether this be a work-related or informal conversation, and would encourage others to do the same. As the old BT advert used to say (for those of us old enough to remember!) 'It's good to talk', and whilst e-mails and Messenger have their place, while we may need to put ourselves under social isolation, we still need to make time for social interaction.

So whilst our physical ways of working and daily routine may have changed for now, our vision is still the same – let's continue to work to make physical activity the norm, and let's continue to collaborate and share learning – we'd love to hear from you.

Active in the Time of Corona – A blog looking at enabling physical activity at an unprecedented moment in history

"It was a lone voice in the middle of the ocean, but it was heard at great depth and great distance."
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

As part of my reflective practice I thought I'd share some of my thoughts in a blog. I don't have a very clear idea of where they will go, except to say that I've been doing a lot of thinking around system change, so at some point I'll be visiting that.

The 'not knowing where things are going' may be a good place to start. Perhaps there has never been a time when it has been so hard to predict how life will unfold; globally, nationally, in our communities and, for me anyway, individually. For us as an organisation, the outbreak of a virus has jolted our progress and I'm not sure any of us know how big a jolt this will prove to be, or how we should respond.

I've spent hundreds of hours in the last decade studying and practising Eastern philosophies and ways of thinking. In the East, not knowing, is considered a place of power and possibility. This contrasts with the instinct of the West where 'not knowing' is generally considered a weakness, a lack of power. Imagine during a political election debate where candidates, when asked about their priorities, answered 'I don't know'. The likelihood is that they would be ridiculed and lose a significant percentage of the vote.

Eastern thinkers however teach us that to take a position that 'we know' is limiting. Once you have cemented yourself to a belief, you lose flexibility and even the ability to look at things differently. Knowing implies a certainty that is beyond challenge and that will channel all future thought in a limiting way.

Better, the oriental sages would tell us, be like the wise owl who can turn its head 360' and see the whole picture. It is from saying 'I don't know', that we give birth to a willingness to search, investigate and learn. 'I don't know' contains a potent energy of infinite potential.

I think we're pretty good at this at Active Notts and Active Derbyshire. We champion the idea that there is not necessarily a right answer, we underline the individuality of place and importance of relationship.

This has relevance to system change. System change is based around understanding systems as living things; adapting and with emergent features that could never have been predicted empirically. Systems are always moving, evolving and therefore, in some sense, unknowable.

But not to know, does not mean, not to act, or not to think. Quite the reverse. It is the not knowing that feeds thought and activity. So, at this time, when none of us know what is going to happen, how might we think and act?

I've been thinking short, medium and longer term about our response to Corona.

By short term I mean the next 12 weeks; a timespan given to us by our Prime Minister. This is the period that he suggests people like me should self-isolate for. What might we, as an organisation, do in this period?

The winds of change are blowing a gale and like grass in the wind we need to follow the eastern approach and bend with the wind, not resist it. Now is not the time to stand firm and refuse to see the landscape in a different way. We need to observe, spot the new patterns that will undeniably emerge, and adapt to them. We are already taking on a new language with phrases like self-isolation and we probably need to create more new terms to describe what we see. For instance, I'm seeing a split between the 'Corona Confident' and the 'Corona Cautious'. We want both groups to be active, but will each need a different approach? I'm seeing new community and neighbourhood networks emerge, informally and often using What's App and Facebook to connect.

On my own street, a fairly sophisticated group has established to get resources to the isolated. Within 24 hours mechanisms are in place to exchange money, collect and deliver orders and to include those without technology. In the time of Corona, we need to think about how we fit alongside these new networks, what we can offer and how we can reach them.

I'll define the medium term as the next year. It's a guess at how long the time of Corona will last. (but I don't know). We'll need to have gathered our thoughts from the short term, and be putting together some new, flexible ways of working. What these are – I don't know. They may be designed on our new understanding of the psyche of our counties' inhabitants; a need to replace established mechanisms that may be defunct. In a year where we may lose the inspiration of the Olympics, we may have to appeal on a more local scale than ever before for those who will inspire. We may be searching for unlikely heroes in unlikely places. We will want to make the case that good health is one of the best defences against Corona and all her offspring, mentally and physically.

Again, on my road there is talk of street exercise sessions on our drives. Young and old, or maybe just old, rekindling a wartime spirit of togetherness, but built on activity.

The post Corona era of 2021 and beyond will hold different challenges and opportunities from the ones we may have envisaged at the start of 2020. System change is not about altering the parts of an existing system, but it is about designing a better system. This means looking at the system as a whole, planning and actively working towards a shared design.

Left alone our existing system parts will automatically adapt, but this adaptation will occur in silo, adjusting somewhat to what's around them, but ultimately continuing towards their own agendas.

System change is about getting those parts to see the system itself as a key part of their agenda. To see that we are all in it together, and only by acting together are we going to get the best outcomes.

Corona will rock our systems, but in doing so offer us an opportunity to influence system re-design, since many of our partners, stakeholders and communities will have to reflect, refocus and rebuild simultaneously.

Any living system needs a central processing unit (CPU) if it is going to determine its own development. Without that CPU, it is just a connected number of interdependent parts whose evolution is as much competitive as collaborative. Long term, we need to think about how we can create, influence, or shape a CPU in the physical activity system. To do that we need to understand more about systems theory…starting out on such a journey it may seem like ours is a lone voice in a deep ocean. I'd love to say how this needs to happen. But I don't know.

We'll have to find out together.

Self-isolating and keeping active

I promise not to say 'unprecedented'!

It's week three since the organisation made the decision to enforce working from home, a week before the prime minister announced that this was mandatory for those who could do so. It was suggested to me that I write a blog about how this would affect my physical activity levels and how I'd overcome the challenges of a closed gym, but to be honest I feel this may lean over more towards how self-isolation has affected me personally and remaining active has helped that.

Before the self-isolation began, I was in month six of keeping up with a regular gym routine and being focused on bettering my health. A journey which has been helped along by being part of an organisation that puts the emphasis on being physically active and promoting the benefits. I had never worked anywhere before that considered walking meetings, playing ping pong during breaks to stimulate thinking, or indeed had any colleagues that were so energetic and passionate about what they do. Joining Active Derbyshire and Active Notts has made me realise that I owe it to myself to be more active and not take for granted physical exercise- something I suppose a lot of the nation is now thinking during this time!

Surrendering to the situation

When it got announced that a lockdown would be a probability my initial reaction was panic. I'll hold my hands up and say that I work best to a routine and like to feel a sense of control, the thought of not being able to use the gym or attend my spin class made me feel like I was losing a part of my routine, my structure. Combined with not being able to walk around the beautiful Peak District, I really did wonder if this was the time when I'd slip off the wagon and my fitness would take the back seat. I'm sure plenty of people across the country felt like this so I did take comfort in the fact that I'm not alone.

In my third week of isolation I have found myself exercising more than ever. Whether this is down to boredom or sheer determination not to let previous work go to waste, I have found myself adapting and joining the wave of online videos that seemed to have grasped the nation. Friends who usually were quite sedentary are trying videos, family who usually take their local area for granted are now donning their trainers and giving it a go. Is this all down to boredom or simply the fact that when something's taken away/limited, you want it more? Every day I receive pictures from my friends who are exercising and coming up with innovative ways to keep their children occupied during this difficult time- has this pandemic done our job for us and made people realise that exercise isn't just a choice, it's vital to our wellbeing?

Personal guilt and acceptance

I have felt extremely lucky for the fact that I don't have any dependants or relatives that solely rely on me, but on the flipside of the coin this has also brought about a wave of guilt. The disruption the virus has brought to many of my friends has been unimaginable, whether that's been to their work lives, income or family dynamics, I feel like I have no right to complain about this new situation I find myself in. But in masking how I feel about this, I'm just burying my head in the sand and not letting myself feel what I need to feel.

I live alone and pride myself on having a very active social life. Whereas some people may have the perception that those who live alone are happy with their own company and spend long periods of time alone, I actually prefer to keep a busy social calendar and thrive on meeting my friends and going out. Accepting that I won't be able meet my nearest and dearest, even for just a quick pint, has really winded me. Events I had planned are dropping like flies so now there is nothing to look forward to, none of the fun festivals I have planned with the tribe. This would be enough to affect anyone but tied in with the prospect of no personal interaction with another human being- I knew straight away this was going to be challenging.

Using physical activity to support my mental health

Prior to this I viewed spin class as my therapy, I thought that you had to be in a room full of mad men sweating and swearing to be motivated. I needed that group mentality and unity to help me push through intense workouts, that sense of 'we're all in this together'. Whilst spin hasn't been available to me, I have found this message in other places.

Through group video calls with the rest of my colleagues, the level of understanding to each other's needs has been incredible. We've had discussions about how this situation affects our usual work routine and we've all been incredibly raw and open about how we've all felt. The shared sense of being in this together has been profound and something I didn't expect to be possible through a lap top screen. Yes I'm in an unexpected situation right now, but my team feel the same and we're all in this together.

The space to share and check-in with the team has been so valuable in keeping my spirits high and avoid drifting into a place where I feel lost and unmotivated. Keeping in check has helped me keep up with an activity routine and made sure I plan and integrate fitness into my day. Every member of the team takes a daily walk and hearing of those running or cycling inspires me to want to do the same. As we type this my thighs are currently aching due to a HiiT workout my colleague suggested!

My daily walk has been paramount in making me still feel connected to the community and realise that there's a wider world even though mine is now restricted to just four walls. I spend 5 days out of 7 making sure I focus on either walking, cardio or body weight exercises, a similar routine I had before but now one where I get to be more creative. Did you know that hoovering burns 175 calories an hour? Nope, neither did I (nor has this influenced my level of cleaning, but you get the picture). There are items all around the house we can use to keep active, whether that's little spurts throughout the day, or at a set time in the morning or evenings. My favourite at the moment is doing squats whilst watching the telly, if you're feeling brave you can also turn it into jumping squats whilst holding 2 tins of beans.

Finding comfort in routine

If there's anyone else who felt as lost as I did when their usual routine got flipped on its head, I'd just suggest trying a bit of everything and seeing what motivates you. We've been afforded this time to take a step back and think, to be creative with our surroundings. Make your next challenge the challenge to keep motivated and tackle procrastination. If like me you respond better to having a routine, keep that routine as close to normal as possible. I've had to make a conscious effort to still get up early and dressed- as much as I think my colleagues would appreciate seeing my Pikachu onesie on a video call! Keeping the normal routine helps set you up for the day.