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Health feature: Leon Wormley – Rotherham Active for Health

Last year saw the release of our enabling healthcare professionals video in partnership with Public Health England. Since then, we have interviewed many key health sector leaders on their approaches to supporting more disabled people to be active. Today, we hear from Leon Wormley, Director at Functional Fitness Solutions, which delivers Rotherham Active for Health.

Leon with a client doing exercises

Leon smiling to camera

Rotherham Active for Health is a local programme linking NHS clinical services with community physical activity initiatives. The programme specialises in community-based exercise for people with long-term health conditions. 

So Leon, what is Rotherham Active for Health and how does it support disabled people and people with long-term health conditions?

Rotherham Active for Health is a community-based rehabilitation programme for people living with one or more of the following long-term health conditions: Coronary heart disease heart failure, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, lower back pain and fractures resulting from a fall. Our aim is to support people with long-term conditions to become more physically active. And to be able to better manage their condition(s).

Our approach focuses on creating strong partnerships and pathways between healthcare services and community-based physical activity opportunities. These partnerships enable us to engage patients as early as possible on their rehabilitation journey and use specialist, structured exercise to aid recovery.

Active for Health operates a three-step model:

1. Rehabilitation
Our exercise specialists work with NHS services to engage patients at the end of their medical rehabilitation. This direct face-to-face contact is so valuable and helps reassure many individuals to take their first step into exercise.

2. Moving on (The Intervention)
Step two is where our work really begins. Once discharged, patients are referred to our programme. During the funded period (2015 – 2018) our offer consisted of a free 12 week condition specific exercise programme. Without this follow on support, many people would end up back in rehab.

3. Keeping active
Following the free 12 week intervention programme, patients have the opportunity to continue on the Active for Health programme on a paid basis to help sustain their activity levels and a new healthier lifestyle. We had a good uptake from step two to three, with around 60-80% of individuals staying on. The majority of people also remained more physically active 12 months on from when they first started.

What changes did you see in your participants?

During step one, the team really focused on improving patient and health care confidence. Many people needed a lot of reassurance that we had the right knowledge, skills and qualifications to support people with specific health conditions. This gave them the confidence to move on to step two and start the 12 week free intervention programme.

Step two is where we saw the most change. Just one hour of structured physical activity and exercise each week had a big impact on the majority of our participants. We saw individuals change their lifestyle and behavioural habits. As a result, people began to feel healthier, more confident and were more motivated to start and stay active.

We saw changes beyond the exercise too. Active for Health has a big impact on people’s social interaction and engagement. After every exercise class, participants enjoy 30 minutes of social activity time with each other and the team. Of course, the exercise is important, but you cannot underestimate the power of sitting down and catching-up with someone who is experiencing similar health issues to you. This helped participants feel more connected to each other and have a sense of belonging.

Image shows Leon with a group of clients doing the strong-man pose.

How many people has the programme supported and what are your key takeaways?

In total, 1,400 people took up the Active for Health programme. The average age of participants during the funded period was 65 years old.

We are proud of our success in Rotherham. It is fair to say that the majority of people we engaged did not come from an active background and were quite isolated. Some have gone through life never engaging in any form of activity or exercise. Seeing individuals change their behaviour and continue to be active 6-12 months down the line is very special for the whole Active for Health team. When you consider the challenge involved in achieving this, I take immense pride in how far we have come as a team and business. 

One of the most important takeaways from this programme is the importance of collaboration. We built and maintained strong partnerships and effective collaborations between all the stakeholders involved. Our local Public Health team led on securing buy-ins from healthcare services, including physios, GPs and nurses. Without this, Active for Health would simply not exist. Rotherham Public Health also supported us with a lot of the strategic work, upskilling of staff and co-ordination of referrals from healthcare professionals across the borough. This holistic approach created a golden thread of communication among our partners, which enabled us to overcome the barriers people face in becoming more physically active.

How are you keeping Active for Health alive?

Functional Fitness drives Active for Health’s legacy through our new Active for Life Solutions venue, in which we take pride as our centre for movement. Due to our strong evidence base, we have since expanded our focus and now include learning disabilities, autism, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and mental health. As a forward-thinking director and team, we strive each day to challenge the norm, work off best practice and use the latest evidence base to inform our delivery and strengthen our services. We have a unique approach to fitness and exercise which is bound together by the Foundations of Movement. This ethos enables us to engage with some of the most isolated people in society. As we look towards the future, I encourage people, businesses and services to get in touch and collaborate with us.

More information and detail about Active for Health’s evaluation can be found on the Functional Fitness website.