Author: Jemma Abbott

New year, new service: Lighten Up For Life!

The new year will see us launching a new service for people in Solihull: the Lighten Up For Life weight management group.

Lighten Up for Life has been designed as an extension of the Solihull Lighten Up service (SLU), which we’ve been running for a while. SLU supports people in a number of ways, but a very popular option is a weight management group, so we’ve used our in-house specialists – and over a decade of experience – to design a weight management group with a difference.

The free 12 week programme is funded by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and sessions will run at two venues (to begin with) in Chelmsley Wood.

The main difference between Lighten Up For Life and other groups is that this is intended to be a distinct 12 week course, rather than a group that people will continue to go to indefinitely. That’s because we believe weight loss should be a sustained, behavioural lifestyle change. By the end of 12 weeks, we hope the people who attend Lighten Up For Life won’t only have lost weight, but will have made the changes required to keep the weight off. We don’t want the people we work with to be attending weight management groups forever – we want to give them the tools they need to make the changes themselves. For life.

Over the last ten years, Gateway has helped thousands of people to lose weight and keep it off, through services like Health Trainers. The Lighten Up For Life team includes para-professional Health Promoters who have been helping people to make sustained lifestyle changes for many years, as well as an experienced Dietitian, and a Behaviour Change Adviser who is a trainee health psychologist.

And, unlike some other weight management groups, Lighten Up For Life isn’t just about diet. The 12 sessions will include physical activities, ways to manage stress, tips about “food and mood”, and the type of social peer support that we know from experience really helps everyone in a group.

We’re really looking forward to delivering the Lighten Up For Life course and we’re delighted that so many people have already signed up for the first sessions in January. If you’d like to join them, call 0121 456 7820 and ask for Lighten Up For Life to find out if you are eligible.

Health Trainers closure: reflecting on success

Gateway’s Health Trainers service, offering one-to-one support and advice to people who want to make lifestyle changes, will be closing at the end of September.

Health Trainer Wayne pictured at our Family Health and Wellbeing Day
Last week, we looked at some of the numbers and showed how successful the service has been during almost a decade of operation. Gateway Health Trainers supported more than 18,000 people over the years, with more than 90% of people completing their support, and 84% of those achieving or part-achieving their goals.

This week, we thought we’d share some more personal stories, both from the Health Trainers themselves and the people they’ve supported.

Beckie is moving over to work for Gateway’s Pre-Diabetes team, but here she reflects on her year as a Health Trainer and tells us about one of her most memorable clients during that time.

Ralph came to the Health Trainers from the Lighten Up service. Here, he tells us what he has found most satisfying about being a Health Trainer. Sometimes, the successes aren’t as obvious as you think!

Contrary to popular belief, the Health Trainers service wasn’t just about weight loss or physical activity (although of course they helped people with that too!) Many people reported improved mental health and wellbeing, reduced their alcohol intake, or became less socially isolated thanks to their Health Trainer.

Wayne (pictured above at our Health and Wellbeing Day in July) told us how one of his clients came in for help with her weight management, but went on to make many other changes.

“Once she’d made the decision to lose some weight, it felt easier for her to make other changes in her life too,” he says. “One of those things was smoking. She knew she had wanted to stop smoking for a while – especially after one of her grandchildren made a comment about it, saying ‘nanny, you don’t smell very nice’, so the next time she came to see me, she asked about smoking cessation services and I was able to refer her straight away to a stop smoking clinic. A lot of people think it’s really difficult to stop smoking without putting on weight, but because she’d made the decision to change, and made the changes in tandem, she found it a lot easier than she thought.”

Health Trainers pictured in 2016. Margaret is on the far left.
Health Trainer Margaret (left) told us about one of her clients, who was referred for weight loss, but whose issues went a bit deeper than that. “She rarely left the house,” says Margaret, “so she wasn’t doing any physical activity at all. She also had a diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which meant that she had a lot of discomfort around eating. She hated certain foods because of her phobia of crumbs and dirt, and didn’t eat any fruit or vegetables.

“So I supported her by taking things really steady and helping her to mentally prepare for the changes to meals. First we substituted just one item of food at a time in each meal for a piece of fruit or veg. Then we started getting her out of the house, for just two or three minutes a day. And she really worked hard. Every time I met her she was going out for longer and longer periods of time and eating more and more healthy foods.

“By the end of the support, she had already lost a stone and a half, and was walking down the road to meet me in different locations. I’m so proud of her! And it’s so rewarding for me, too. I have really loved this job.”

As you can see, the service means a lot to staff and their clients. We hope that, in a future without Health Trainers, people will continue to get the support they need.

End of an era: a celebration of the Health Trainers service

It’s a sad time for Gateway, as funding from Birmingham Public Health comes to an end for one of our longest-running services.

Gateway Health Trainers, pictured in 2011. Wayne (back row, left), Hana (front row, left) and Richard (front row, centre) are still with the service

The popular Health Trainers service, offering one-to-one support and advice to people who want to make lifestyle changes, has been decommissioned and will finish at the end of September.

All our Health Trainers are now working hard to finalise arrangements with their remaining clients and get everyone to a place where they feel they have achieved at least some of their goals.

Although it’s a sad time for us, it’s also bittersweet, as we reflect upon the Health Trainers’ many successes and achievements. So we thought this would be a good opportunity to have a look back at the service and share some of the stories and statistics with you.

The Health Trainers service was started in 2008. By the time the funding ends, we will have worked with more than 18,000 South Birmingham residents, with more than 90% completing their support.

Over the last two years, the service has changed very slightly. Rather than focusing our support in the most deprived areas of Birmingham, we now focus on people with a level of vulnerability. This can include recent offenders, people with substance misuse, people who have experienced domestic abuse, or mental ill health, and people who are in temporary accommodation. More than a third of the 2000 people we work with every year are in this group.

When a Health Trainer starts working with someone new, they help them to come up with a set of achievable goals to work towards. These often include losing weight and becoming more physically active, but they also include stopping smoking, or even becoming more confident and socially active.

Over the last decade, Gateway’s Health Trainers helped people to achieve, or part-achieve, the goals they set themselves in 84% of cases. For example:

  • Physical activity: 91% of the people we worked with needed to increase their levels of physical activity, and 85% did
  • Nutrition: Of those who were eating less than the recommended level of fruit and veg, 52% of those classed as “low” and 60% of those classed as “very low” resolved the risk
  • Alcohol: 45% of those who had a risk relating to drinking more than the recommended level of alcohol resolved that risk
  • Mental health: More than two-thirds saw an improvement in their mental wellbeing, according to WEMWBS measurements at the beginning and end of support

Dr. Asfia Aftab is a GP Partner at Vicarage Road Surgery, one of the GP surgeries that Gateway Health Trainers worked with. When told about the end of the service, she said, “I am sad to hear this news. As you know, we had a great experience with Health Trainer services for our patients in Kings Heath and say they were a very valuable part of the primary care services we provided. We had a lot of great anecdotal feedback from patients.”

As Josh explains, below, Health Trainers is a “whole person” service and one of the biggest benefits of the service has been the ability to offer people time. Time to build up a rapport, learn as much as possible about a person, and really talk things through.

Josh came to Gateway after completing a degree in Psychology; first as a volunteer, and then as a Health Trainer. He has used the skills and knowledge gained as part of his degree to back up his work with Gateway, helping people to make significant lifestyle and behavioural changes.