My week at GM Active- By Bethan Hunt

How it came about

As a Graduate Development Officer at Stockport Council, I was offered the opportunity of shadowing in a different organisation within Greater Manchester. Through North West Employers, I was paired up with Sarah Broad from GM Active- The Association of Greater Manchester Leisure and Cultural Trusts. Whilst I had experience of partnership working through the health and social care integration work, I was excited to compare this experience with a different sector. Similarly, I was interested in the opportunities that devolution provided for high levels of partnership working across Greater Manchester, and how these opportunities were balanced with the distinct identities and requirements of each individual borough. On a personal level, being a keen cyclist and (most of the time) a fitness enthusiast, it felt like this was a perfect match for me.

Day One:

Sarah and I kick started our shadowing by attending a GM Moving Leadership meeting. Much of the meeting was spent discussing Chris Boardman’s recent appointment as Walking and Cycling Commissioner for GM and how this public face could support the work of GM Moving. Through this discussion, I was particularly interested in the group’s focus on behavioural change and the positive impact that this could have on promoting active forms of transport across GM.
Sarah and I then spent the afternoon visiting the National Cycling Centre, Regional Athletics Arena and National Squash Centre, which was a reminder of the amazing facilities GM has. We discussed the opportunities of ensuring that these world class venues were accessible to all of GM.

Day Two:

Our second day of shadowing took us to Wythenshawe Forum, an amazing community centre which brings together a leisure centre, GP surgery, pharmacist, theatre space and many other services. I really enjoyed being in the hub of the community. We met here for a Health Group meeting which brought representatives from GM Active’s member organisations from across Greater Manchester. This gave me an opportunity to learn about the different priorities for boroughs but also to see the overarching themes emerging. I was particularly interested in the local programmes to support people with long-term conditions into physical activity. As someone with a background in health and social care integration I was fascinated to see the ongoing work that the member organisations were carrying out and how this was supporting people to live more active life styles. As someone who didn’t have much knowledge of leisure, I wasn’t aware of the pro-active and innovative work going on. Similarly, I was also interested in work in leisure centres to support elderly members and tackle inactivity in over 65s.

Day Three:

On my third day of shadowing, I was lucky enough to spend the day at Active Medlock. This showed me just how well used, valued and loved leisure centres really are. There were groups of young people and adults with learning disabilities accessing the centre to develop their education and skills including numeracy, cooking and utilising public transport. As well as using the centre for exercise, fun activities and socialising. Again, as I previously had very limited knowledge of leisure centres I wasn’t aware of how vital these hubs are to some of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable people.

Day Four:

In complete contrast to my previous shadowing experience, I was next at Transport for Greater Manchester’s Head Quarters (TfGM) for a corporate event to promote membership TfGM’s employees. This highlighted the multifaceted environment that the member organisations operate in, supporting community groups as well as working with larger Greater Manchester employers to support health and wellbeing.

Day Five:

On my final day, I attended the GM Moving Workshop. This felt like a great way to consolidate all my learning and round off my experience. There were a number of great presentations and speakers, including from the founder of the “Daily Mile”, an innovative and simple 20 minute exercise slot, originally set up for primary school children as an informal and relaxed way to increase activity levels. I was most interested in how its success was based on its ease, no PE kit or preparation was required and later on in the day, the conference delegates also took part in their own “Daily Mile” so we could experience the benefits for ourselves. We also heard and had a quiz on the data and information about activity and inactivity levels across GM, this revealed and reinforced the stark differences in areas across GM. But also sparked a discussion about how this insight can help more targeted work in the future.

I was particularly interested in discussions and presentations about the wider determinates of health and physical activity such as environment, education and employment. I also particularly enjoyed the analysis of previous health and activity campaigns which covered a wide range of community interventions as well as more famous examples including the London 2012 Olympic Games and London’s Congestion Charge. This allowed delegates to have an appreciation of best practice and ideas for the GM Moving strategy. Throughout the day, it was great to see the variety of partners engaged in this work including charities, public health, the NHS and universities.

Overall Reflections

As this post shows, I got to experience the real variety and complexity of operating in the leisure and cultural sector and the links that it had with many other organisations and work going on across GM. Overall, I found the preventative aspect of this work the most interesting and the challenge of working with communities and individuals before they reach the stages of inactivity, therefore having a negative impact on their own health and wellbeing as well as their own communities. It was great to spend time with Sarah and learn about her perspective and experience, as she started out in a similar graduate position to myself, I really thank her for taking the time to allow me to shadow her.

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