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Health feature: Michelle Roberts – Richmond Group of Charities

Since the release of our film for healthcare professionals, Activity Alliance has been talking to leaders about how sectors like health and sport can support more disabled people to be active. Today, our health feature series continues with Michelle Roberts, Richmond Group of Charities’ physical activity and health programme manager. Michelle explains how messaging is crucial to getting people with long-term health conditions active.  

Image shows Michelle smiling to camera

How is the Richmond Group of Charities addressing the activity barriers people with long-term health conditions face?

One of the key things that drives the group is the shared commitment to supporting people with multiple long-term health conditions. Our programme of work particularly addresses this challenge. This is done through commissioning research, executing campaigns that resonate with our audience and sharing better practice.

The starting point for us in addressing barriers is to find out what those barriers might be. Through commissioning research we try to identify these. This was our starting point when pulling together a programme of work called Movement for All. The programme is a collaborative approach to increasing physical activity. In partnership with Sport England, Activity Alliance and Mind, we are working together to combine our knowledge to help increase the activity levels of the people we support.

There is also a commitment from the charities to look at how physical activity can be integrated into their work. For example, we’ve got projects that are utilising helplines and undertaking health coaching to support people to increase their activity. We’ve also got projects that are working with peer support groups.

Through research we have found messaging and language around physical activity can also be a barrier. This is why we have teamed up with charities outside of the Richmond Group, and with Sport England to develop our We Are Undefeatable campaign. The campaign focuses on how to support people with long-term health conditions to be active in whatever way suits them. The campaign uses a behaviour change approach and emotionally engaging campaign resources. This is instead of relying on functional messages about how much activity people should aim for, or what type of activity they should try.

What does success look like to you for this campaign?

One in four people in England live with a long-term health condition. They are twice as likely to be leading an inactive lifestyle than those living without one This is despite evidence showing that being active can help manage many conditions.

We Are Undefeatable was launched to support people to be active. This is done through showing people living with a variety of conditions – both visible and invisible – on their own journeys to being active.

So, our long-term goal is to see more people with long-term health conditions being active. However, before even getting to this point, we need to successfully engage with our audience. This is where our campaign’s messaging comes in. The right campaign messages  are crucial to ensure people with long-term health conditions feel that being active is relatable and achievable for them.

Promoting physical activity is something all our charity partners are committed to as part of their work, to help people with long-term health conditions live well. Another big success for me would be to continue to see how they are embedding physical activity more and more into their day to day work. And reinforcing the campaign messages at every opportunity. This is equally important of healthcare professionals, and sport and activity providers. These sectors have the opportunity to help our target audience and enable them to overcome some of the barriers we know exist. Success would be seeing them using the campaign as a starting point for positive and person-centred conversations about being active.

What do you think needs to change within the healthcare sector to get people with long-term health conditions more active?

There’s a lot of good things already changing in this sector. The focus on personalised care is one example. This gives people more choice and control over the way their care is planned and delivered. We need to continue to move towards this person centred approach of thinking about people first, rather than their conditions.

This links into a need for more understanding of non-clinical approaches that support people to look after their health and wellbeing. This is hopefully increasing through the roll out of social prescribing.

Tied into all of this is upskilling a busy and diverse workforce in being confident enough to talk about physical activity. And knowing where to find information to support them in having positive conversations - there are lots of great resources already available. Additionally healthcare professionals have so many interactions with people with long-term conditions that could be teachable moments. It’s important not to miss out on these opportunities to reach people. For example through health checks or care planning appointments. We need to not forget the social care workforce in all this too. They also have an important part to play in this.

As a wider point, the healthcare sector could do more to consider how their environments and infrastructure can help to create active choices by default. The Royal College of GPs have started their Active Practices scheme, which is good example of this. Why couldn’t hospital environments undertake small changes that help support patients and staff to be active?

What about sport and activity providers?

There’s a lot of great work already happening from providers in making sure that opportunities are inclusive and accessible. I do think the sector may be missing out on opportunities to engage people with long-term health conditions in their facilities, sessions and classes. Increasingly, we are all recognising that there is no one size fits all approach. It’s about providing a mixture of opportunities and providing choice. Whether people want an activity bespoke to certain health conditions or want to feel that facilities will support them, regardless of health conditions or ability level.

Some of this relies on the sector understanding this audience a bit better. Marketing heavily comes into this and it’s about getting the language right. Also, just trying to focus in on some basic good practice, such as the Activity Alliance’s 10 principles. These types of resources are really supportive for the sector in breaking down better practice into bite size chunks.

My final point is that physical activity needs to not be that special thing that just sits in the corner, all on its own. It needs to be something that’s fundamental and embedded in everything that we do.

Just making little changes can go a long way. This can only begin through conversations on how we can overcome activity barriers together. 

The Richmond Group of Charities is a group of 14 health and social care charities in England. They work together as a collective voice to better influence health and social care policy and practice, with the aim of improving the care and support for the 15 million people living with long term conditions. To find out more about the Richmond Group of Charities, please visit their website.