This is a space for us to share our experiences and activities which currently influence the way we work and promote physical activity in Nottinghamshire. We're sharing to help us reflect and ask questions of ourselves, and others, with the overall aim being to help make physical activity the norm.
Life without teams
As we embark upon a new stage of life with little human interaction, or socialising, many have taken to different forms of technology to ensure we retain what little 'face-to-face' contact we can. In a world of Zoom, Teams, Hangouts, Whatsapp, Facetime and other video conferencing platforms, I'm starting to realise we can actually continue to work, socialise, communicate and interact, even if not quite truly 'face-to-face'.
Life isn't easy for anyone right now, but most like me, are probably coming to terms with having more time to be productive. I'm getting more done at work, I'm spending more time with my family and I'm exercising every day, without fail.
I'm lucky. I have part-time employment and have two consultancy contracts that are still generating me some work. It's tough, but I seem to be able to be making progress with each and still finding time for the other important things in life.
I love cooking and am doing more of it. The sun is shining, making exercise (running in particular) more enjoyable. I have weekends again. We didn't have a free one for about six months, but now the diary seems completely clear.
What isn't there to like about this new way of living?
Well actually, I realised this week, what I am missing most. People.
I know I am not alone. Millions in this country and many more across the world spend hours of their week with others. Whilst some of this is being replaced with virtual teams (sorry no product placement intended), the one thing I am struggling with is the lack of team sport.
I am starting to realise why I have so much time for everything else. Team sport has been taken away from me and I miss it…. all of it.
Leading teams in a Monday Night Touch league
Coaching my Nottingham Touch Club team on Wednesday evening
Cheering on my local Nottingham Rugby team on a Friday night
Following my son's football team on a Saturday
Coaching my son's rugby team on a Sunday
Following my two daughter's progress in their England Touch teams at weekends
Team sport has been part of my life for 43 years (since the age of five).
Playing, or coaching rugby, football and touch have been there as long as I can remember.
I don't think we have ever really had a break. Christmas and New Year maybe. Summer holidays are a bit different. But generally, for seven days a week, I'm involved in some form of team sport.
I now know why I have so much more time to be productive. I like it, but I am still missing team sport.
Progress moves at the speed of trust
What does it take to build relationships and trust? Have the Feel-Good Packs helped us do this?
When the world feels like it has gone a little bit mad - and what we all thought was normal has gone out the window - our ability to develop and maintain relationships and trust, through our work, is even more important. But how do we do that now? Has how we do this fundamentally changed or does it just feel a little bit different?
I asked my 15-year-old son what he thought was the most important part of building trust and relationships and without hesitation he said listening and being kind. (I was, to be honest, shocked at his response and did for a second delight in that we must be doing something right as parents!) But I think he is right and in this Coronavirus crazy world we need to consider how we can best listen and understand what our partners are now doing to support people living in our communities. Listen and understand the issues being faced, particularly by those from our priority groups and target areas, be able to demonstrate empathy and understanding to what we are seeing and hearing, and then be able to help and respond accordingly.
The Feel-Good Packs (which look different in each and every place!) are in response to just that - listening, understanding and then responding effectively and creatively to what is needed, by working collectively with new and existing partners with a shared purpose and set of values.
Our partners in education, health and social care and the voluntary sector have been telling us many people living in the communities where higher health inequalities exist are, at times, finding it harder to cope with lockdown. This is for a number of reasons including a lack of indoor space, limited outdoor space, often more people living in the household, underlying health problems, lower income, lack of resources and digital exclusion.
The Feel-Good Packs have also worked as a tool for building trust and relationships.
When staff at Active Notts and Active Derbyshire, who have been using the concept of Feel-Good packs, came together to reflect on the use of the packs in developing trust and relationships there was a unanimous agreement that this simple investment and piece of work has had a huge impact in helping us position ourselves as a trusted partner and develop our understanding of people and place. When we explored further, and whether we knew it or not, we all deployed some key principles or tactics:
- Working collaboratively – this has meant all playing our part and taking a shared responsibility to make things happen. Being part of the journey, not just a funding partner.
- Identifying where trust lies in our priority communities and enabling these partners to be the "front facing" organisation. This has meant taking an egoless approach to the work. (For the majority this has been through primary schools)
- Asking for help from other partners in a place to help us understand how people were feeling and coping and what needed to be done. This acknowledges that partners have skills, knowledge and qualities we need, it empowers them to feel valued and that they have a vital part to play in making a difference.
- Offering help is also key. It is one thing to understand what was needed, it's another offering to help meet that need. By offering to help, it connects us into the work and we are now playing a different role in the relationships that are evolving.
- Really understanding what is going on and what is possible, making sure we have a full picture of partners and communities' views, thoughts and opinions.
- Enabling and encouraging a different offer has been important. The packs have been led by the resources and needs locally, each place needs a response that is slightly different.
- Connecting partners with the same values and motivations together, for some the first time and for others who had negative opinions of each other the work has now changed this.
It's more than just a pack!
There is one obvious value for the work. We have enabled a resource and goodie pack to reach some of the most vulnerable families living in our counties and helped them in some way, shape or form to get through the current crisis. But they have been so much more than that:
- We have seen new collaborative partnerships evolve and develop that can be built on for future, with a true willingness to work together to make a difference. These are strong because we have been through something and created something together.
- We have been able to change perceptions of partners and show value to others enabling connections for the future.
- New relationships have developed with organisations with fundamentally the same values e.g, housing, CVS organisations, social care
- The professional workforce - we are trying to support, to develop their thinking and their ways of working. This has been a real experience in how to work differently and collaboratively through informal mentoring and development.
- We have demonstrated flexibility in ways of working and been brave, when needed, to make sure the right thing is done. Stepping in to make things happen quickly and learning ourselves when we need to lead and make things happen and when to step back out and simply guide and support.
- Established the foundations for further insight gathering and place-based working
- Aligned other areas of ours and partners work and enabled things to happen e.g community use of schools and Young People's Fund, transition in schools, supporting and connecting free school meals families
- Identified new community champions and volunteers who are stepping forward to be part of the work and help their community.
The first packs gave us an opportunity to engage and start a connection and conversation with local families.
There are plans everywhere to build on these connections and the work; whether this is more packs to reach different demographics; an art show of children's pictures to connect and celebrate community; holiday activities for the local children in the schools; build connections and working practices between services; the local community shaping new health hubs or the development of new community volunteers. Our role in the next phase of the work will probably look and feel very different. A new norm is establishing and through this, it is important that we are still on the Feel- Good pack journey - guiding, supporting questioning and learning as we go, stepping in when is needed but also being happy to step back!
So has how we build trust and relationships at this time fundamentally changed or does it just feel a little bit different? Well I would say no and yes! We are still working in the same way but maybe have experienced, the first time for some of us, that we have had to be prepared to step in, to take the lead, to make something happen. Something that on the face of it seemed like "doing to" but has really demonstrated some of the new ways of working we are striving to achieve, but hey, we're open for further discussion…..
Self-isolating and keeping active
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.