Any notions of putting the pandemic behind us were stopped in their tracks when the Omicron variant reared its ugly head.
The uncertainty that first emerged was reminiscent of the early signals that led to the lockdowns that brought everyday life to a standstill. Thankfully, that worst case scenario did not become reality, but rest assured if it had, our collective of 12 leisure and community organisations across Greater Manchester would have been prepared.
Members of our collective all share the same vision – to inspire and support more people to become physically active to improve their health and wellbeing – whether circumstances allow for normal activity, or whether we have to go the extra mile to reach, support and encourage every pocket of the communities we serve to maintain our vision.
Here, we look at how the GM Active collective responded in those unprecedented times…
While no means exhaustive, here is a glimpse of what GM Active’s member organisations have achieved during the pandemic. Collectively, we have:
Our member organisations deliver in all sorts of different ways and we wanted to share some of their achievements to illustrate their scope, scale and in the case of one programme in Wigan, the unique nature of the work our collective carries out.
Be Well Wigan, as part of Wigan Council, is committed to ensuring a person-centred approach, providing residents and communities with the opportunity and support to lead healthy lives, through an extensive and accessible health and wellbeing offer.
Its Care to Move programme launched virtual bike rides in to 52 care homes, using portable pedals and immersive footage of local bike rides.
Over the last year, pedals, powered using hands or feet, has seen residents cycling along to immersive video footage of familiar Wigan borough settings. Staff headed out on their bikes to film popular bike routes around the borough and target places familiar to those in the care homes. As the residents’ pedal, they recognise and discuss their surroundings, often recalling memories from particular locations.
Over 100 pedals have gone out to care homes and 300 thave gone to people living in the community via the council’s existing programmes where activities were put on hold due to centre closures, Reablement, Supported Living Services and people identified by community hubs.
Falls cost the borough £10million per year so by reducing the risk of falls in homes through increasing physical activity it stands to improve quality of life and contribute a significant reduction in cost to the wider health and social care system thanks to the residents’ improved strength and fitness.
At the other end of the age scale, Salford Community Leisure’s Music and Performing Arts Service (MAPAS) delivered online classroom music lessons to more than 740 primary school children so they could continue their musical education even when they weren’t in school. It also set up one-to-one instrument lessons for more than 200 young people.
At Christmas 2020, 61 members of the MAPAS Arts Centre submitted performance videos to create its first ever virtual festive celebration.
Your Trust (formally Link4Life) in Rochdale also took steps to provide seasonal entertainment while Middleton Arena’s auditorium was closed by Covid restrictions. With the much-loved annual pantomime not able to be staged in person, the events team, in conjunction with Shone Productions, put together an all-singing, all-dancing digital recording of a Christmas Spectacular for ticket buyers to enjoy in their own homes.
In Manchester, GLL, operating on behalf of MCRactive, which manages the city council’s world-class National and Regional Sports Centres of Excellence and community leisure facilities, worked to deliver activity at Christmas 2020 and Easter 2021 while national lockdowns were in place.
The activity was targeted at young people who were eligible for free school meals. Fun, engaging activities as well as a meal were provided and this provision has continued and grown throughout the subsequent holidays as part of the Holiday Activity Fund. Active Tameside, meanwhile, provided holiday camps for 7,200 children of key workers, while its coaches delivered covid-secure PE and holiday sessions to numerous local schools.
In response to the issue of ‘holiday hunger’ experienced by many families in receipt of free school meals, Your Trust in Rochdale worked closely with early help services, schools and local voluntary groups to deliver the ‘Fit and Fed’ programme throughout the borough.
In Wigan, 32,275 food parcels and/or meals have been provided by the council, community groups and food banks.
Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) initially donated all the food from its vending machines to the local foodbank. But as the pandemic ramped up it was decided to transform Oldham Leisure Centre into a distribution centre for Oldham Foodbank, with supplies piled up in its sports hall.
It also provided hot meals to the homeless and vulnerable in partnership with Oldham Street Angels. Members of OCL collected raw food ingredients, whilst Oldham Leisure Centre cooks prepared wholesome and filling meals for the Street Angels to distribute.
And in Wythenshawe, the Forum’s hall was used for a short term to allow people to provide food parcels for vulnerable groups within the community.
In Rochdale, #Thrive was set up for children and young people aged up to 19 years experiencing emotional health and wellbeing issues such as feeling stressed, worried or not enjoying things.
In partnership with Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust and Youth In Mind, during the pandemic the team worked with an additional 1,859 young people alongside those already in the service. Support included initial consultations, and face-to-face wellbeing calls, as well as providing advice and support to parents, carers and anyone that works with a child or young person.
Meanwhile, MCRactive has been promoting daily messages of support, inspiration and guidance alongside Covid-19 updates across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with an initial focus on supporting Be Active at Home. This resulted in a 20 per cent (and still rising) increase in engagement that helped to grow its platforms exponentially.
And Salford’s libraries continued to adapt to circumstances and changing regulations, ensuring that services that could be offered safely were available to those that needed them. Services included computer courses, collection of lateral flow test kits and enabling the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and TSB bank to offer guidance from its sites.
Wellbeing Leisure, part of OCL, took its Friday Club online to help combat loneliness for its most vulnerable customers. It was originally set up to reduce levels of isolation within the community through physical activity and turned to Zoom to keep members interacting, keeping to its 10am slot every Friday morning. Members also took part in quizzes and other entertainment.
As well as community support, all of GM Active’s Member organsations also focused on their own staff.
For example, in Manchester, GLL supported its staff through interactive group calls which included quizzes and challenges throughout lockdown. Videos were created by senior team members to send a message of solidarity and support to staff, while ‘Mental Health First Aider’ training supported staff and customers.
With the majority of people working from home during the pandemic, a Your Trust healthy workforce programme, delivered in partnership with Rochdale Borough Council, continued to engage employees in healthy initiatives including online weekly health MOTs, online fitness classes, book club, gardening club, monthly film club, weight management and healthy eating sessions, yoga, mindfulness and virtual cafes.
— GM Active CIC (@GM_Active) February 21, 2022
A Covid recovery scheme which gave vital support to Stockport residents during the pandemic reached the finals of a national award.
The Stockport Moving Together physical activity scheme was set up by Life Leisure, Stockport Council, the NHS and Stockport Homes to aid the town’s residents during the pandemic.
Delivered by Life Leisure, which manages 12 sports and leisure facilities in and around Stockport and runs a number of neighbourhood activity programmes, the scheme was shortlisted for a special award at the ukactive Awards to recognise those in the leisure industry that developed and supported communities.
One hundred physical activity packs were delivered to 11 care homes across Stockport, and Life Leisure worked with ICU consultants and respiratory physiotherapists to deliver an additional 40 recovery packs for people who were shielding or recovering from the virus.
The programme was designed to help care home residents and individuals rebuild their strength and stamina as they gradually returned to health. It also supported those who had become deconditioned or experienced declining physical or mental health due to the negative consequences associated with shielding.
On a similar theme, Salford Community Leisure’s Active Lifestyles team developed online classes for chair-based individuals so that they could remain active at home.
In another example of helping people at home, OCL’s exercise referral team organised online classes, delivered equipment to people’s homes and provided telephone exercise classes to support people living with sight loss and visual impairments. Sports equipment was also delivered to pupils at home during school lockdowns.
When restrictions eased, gentle exercise classes started outdoors in local parks and Your Trust hosted regular socially distanced walks at a variety of locations throughout the borough. Leisure Centres re-opened, but with tier restrictions in place, indoor group exercise classes were not able to return straight away, so they were taken outdoors.
In Tameside, five Active Streets sessions were delivered per week to isolated and vulnerable adults, while 900 Live Active members could access online classes, or have printed exercise workout booklets posted out to them if they didn’t have digital access.
OCL launched a timetable of socially distanced, outdoor activities at its centres in Oldham, Chadderton and Saddleworth that included spinning, zumba and bootcamp sessions.
Wythenshawe Forum continued to open during lockdown for its stakeholders Wythenshawe Pharmacy and Wythenshawe Health to run as normal throughout the pandemic. It also continued to open (when leisure centres were closed and schools were open) to allow schools within Manchester to continue with their swimming lessons.
As well as a foodbank, Oldham Leisure Centre was also turned into a research centre for a number of vaccine trials, which saw almost 500 volunteers taking part.
The full extent of what our GM Active collective achieved is way too expansive to list everything here, so we’re going to leave the final word to Chris Rushton, Chief Executive of Active Tameside and Director at GM Active.
Whilst he was talking specifically about his own organisation, we think he speaks for all GM Active members when he says: “We’ve learned many things during the course of the pandemic, but more than anything else, we’ve learned that we can help people to live their best possible life in increasingly diverse ways in our centres, our streets, our parks and online.”