Author: Katherine Hewitt

Caring for our carers – an award-winning strategy

Last week we were very pleased to find out we’ve won a top prize for supporting our staff in caring roles.

The Carer Friendly Business Awards Birmingham are part of the Working for Carers programme by Forward Carers, an organisation developed to make a real difference to the lives of people in carer roles, and Gateway won first prize in the Working for Carers Award category.

The judges were impressed by the flexibility we offer to staff who also have caring responsibilities, including adapting our HR policies to allow for people who may need extra support.

Caring for carers

We have always prided ourselves on being a caring, supportive employer, and our employees are a diverse mix of people with a range of responsibilities outside work. Work and home are intrinsically linked, so we aim to provide a considerate environment where staff can be open about their needs, including regular meetings with line managers, plenty of frank, honest conversation, and a willingness to look at a range of solutions.

Because of this, our working and employment policies have always been flexible, but since joining the Forward Carers scheme as a Working For Carers accredited employer in January, we have reviewed and improved them even more.

We based the following changes on conversations with the carers we employ:

  • At point of employment we now directly ask if the person has caring responsibilities. If they have, we discuss and implement a plan which is then regularly reviewed.
  • Carers told us practical support is often most helpful, so we encourage staff to tell their immediate colleagues they have caring responsibilities. We have found that colleagues are keen to help, supporting them through the common peaks and troughs of caring.
  • Carers also talked about the importance of maintaining their health and wellbeing, so as well as making sure everyone has the opportunity to take part in our internal workplace wellbeing activities, we also encourage carers to be assessed and take up any offers they might be entitled to.

“Worthy winners”

Gateway’s CEO Katherine and Chair Paul with the other Carer Friendly Business Award winners

One of the judges on the Working for Carers Award panel was Councillor Mary Locke. She said: “It was clear from the award entry that Gateway Family Services recognises that carers make up a very important part of the community and they need extra support if they are to continue working, alongside their other responsibilities.

“The team have worked hard to create a working environment which is supporting their staff, also in a carer role outside of the office. The judges were also impressed at how staff are being encouraged to be friendly, open and understanding, which can be hugely beneficial for anyone who is starting to feel isolated or overwhelmed in their role as a carer.

“We thought they were all worthy winners, but Gateway Family Services stood out for all of us.”

Disruption to phone lines Thursday 12th Sept.

We’re moving offices on Thursday so from 12pm we will be without phone lines but we hope we’ll be back up and running again within a few hours and certainly by the end of the afternoon. You can still email us info@gatewayfs.org and if you have any individual staff members mobile numbers please continue to use as normal as these will be unaffected.  All should be back to normal on Friday.

We’re crowdfunding for Healthy Futures

Ralph, Wellbeing Navigator
Ralph, a Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

You might already know that our Social Prescribing service, Healthy Futures, had to stop taking referrals at the end of last year, due to lack of funds. You might also know that Healthy Futures is desperately needed in Birmingham. People who need support are relying on their GP or local A&E because they don’t know where else to go.

But did you know that if all of our Twitter followers chipped in with a tenner, we could support at least ten people for another year?

So we’re asking for your help.

In the next few weeks, we’re going to be launching a crowdfunding campaign. We’re hoping to raise £7000, which would allow our Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigators to support more than ten people for a period of about twelve months.

For now, we’re asking people to sign up to the Gateway Healthy Futures mailing list, and to help spread the word. Then, when our crowdfunding campaign is about to launch, we’ll drop you a line.

sign up for crowdfunder info

A Healthy Futures success story: Royin

“I have moved forward in the last year more than I did in seven years. And it’s all because of you.”

Last year, one of our Healthy Futures clients was Royin, filmed here talking to his Wellbeing Navigator Ralph.

When Royin was two years old, he fell down the stairs and suffered a brain injury which caused life-changing disabilities. Despite doctors’ predictions that he would never be able to work, Royin went on to get a degree and a career in senior management.

But seven years ago, things started to go wrong…

Announcing a new Integrated Lifestyle Service for Solihull

We’re really pleased to announce that Gateway Family Services has been awarded the contract to provide Solihull’s Integrated Lifestyle Service for a minimum of three years from April 2019.

Gateway will be working with a number of partners to deliver a range of core lifestyle services to communities in Solihull, including health checks, weight management, smoking cessation, men’s health and health psychology.

These lifestyle services make up a significant part of Solihull’s new community wellbeing service: a broader partnership of voluntary and community organisations working together to improve the lives of Solihull residents. The new approach will promote self-care and independence, making it easier for people in Solihull to find information and advice, as well as providing specialist support for those who need it.

Expertise

We are delighted that Solihull Council has chosen Gateway to lead the Integrated Lifestyle Service, an important part of the borough’s new community wellbeing service.

Some of Gateway’s Health and Wellbeing facilitators

In doing so, we will be drawing upon our vast experience and years of expertise delivering health and wellbeing services like Health Trainers and Solihull Lighten Up. Since 2015, Solihull Lighten Up has helped more than 3,000 people with a range of needs – sometimes complex – to lose weight and make major lifestyle changes.

And our delivery of the Solihull Integrated Lifestyle Service will perfectly complement Gateway’s other services, like our Workplace Wellbeing services, health and wellbeing training courses, the Birmingham and Solihull Maternity Voices Partnership (BSol MVP) and the work our Peer Educators do with young people (Straight Talking).

As health and wellbeing experts, working in the local community for more than thirteen years, we know that the accessible, community-based approach that Solihull Council has chosen will be most beneficial for people’s health.

We’re looking forward to working with our new partners to deliver a top class service and supporting thousands more people in Solihull to a healthier lifestyle.

Healthy Futures Practice Navigator at work

What’s the future for Healthy Futures?

Unfortunately, we’ve had to stop taking referrals to our social prescribing service Healthy Futures again, leaving dozens of vulnerable people in Birmingham without support. Right now, we simply don’t have the money to continue.

Back in February, we announced that we would be continuing to fund the service using our own savings. At the time, we knew there was a risk we wouldn’t secure external funding before the allocated reserves ran out. Now, sadly, that risk has become a reality. We’ve had to stop taking referrals and our Wellbeing Navigators have spent the last two months winding down people’s support.

How Healthy Futures works

Margaret, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator
Margaret, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

We have two Healthy Futures outreach workers, or Wellbeing Navigators: Ralph and Margaret, who work with people who’ve been referred by their GP. We work in partnership with SDSMyHealthcare, a consortium of GPs in Birmingham, and receive referrals from them and other organisations in the area.

Ralph, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator
Ralph, Healthy Futures Wellbeing Navigator

Put bluntly, Healthy Futures clients are usually “frequent flyers” at their GP surgery — but it’s not medical help they need, it’s social.

When someone is referred into the service, Ralph or Margaret will go out to visit them and find out what they need.

Issues they support people with include housing (many are in hostels or temporary accommodation), financial hardship (many are entitled to benefits but are not receiving them, or have difficulty managing them), alcohol or substance misuse, and ongoing mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Some just need a bit of direction to help them start forming their own friendships and networks. The support given is practical, emotional and, importantly, builds people’s independence.

Here are some examples of the feedback we’ve had from Healthy Futures clients in just the last six weeks.

Judith* is in her 50s and unemployed:

I feel more positive and less confused about my benefits now, thanks for calling them today for me, and helping to sort it and update things with them. I feel like I have my mojo back. I think walking more is helping me too, and your support.

James* is in his 40s and has seen a few support workers over the years. He said to Ralph:

I have had a few issues and problems with support workers in the past, even still these days, but not with you. You don’t judge me, you listen to me, and I know how much you really want to help me. I can see that you really care.

Laura* is a mum in her 30s. She works full time but she and her child have been living in temporary accommodation:

I will look forward to my appointment with [the outreach worker] at Anawim [women’s centre], thanks so much for referring me to her, and telling me more about the support they provide. I am sure they will be of great help to me, like you. I am feeling upbeat.

Cath* is in her 50s and currently unable to work due to her depression:

Thanks so much, I really do feel the need to move on in my life now to look at volunteering and work, either temporary or otherwise. It’s thanks to you I feel like that. You have been so patient and supportive.

We know there is huge demand for the service; since February we have a steady stream of referrals from GPs.

And we know that the service works: an official study carried out in 2017 found that Healthy Futures is a cost-effective way to reduce the time people spend with their GP (when a social intervention is more appropriate), and significantly increases people’s self-reliance and self-care.

But, despite searching and applying for funding from many sources, we haven’t yet been able to secure any external funding and, unfortunately, we just can’t continue under our own steam.

A country in crisis?

Over the last year we’ve applied for many bids and tenders, and there are more in the pipeline, but haven’t won any funding for Healthy Futures so far. Occasionally we have been pipped to the post by larger organisations or partnerships whose reputation will allow them to reach more people — dare we say, it seems that quantity is sometimes given priority over quality.

We’ve even looked at crowdfunding — asking members of the public to donate — but really, should this be necessary?

Of course we understand that not every service can be funded, but it’s clear that more and more money is being needed across the third sector. Feedback tells us that every social fund we apply for is massively oversubscribed; for example, the Challenge Fund told us they had received more than twice as many applications as they’d been expecting. Building Connections told us they had a £9m budget but if they had funded everyone who applied they would have needed a £191m budget.

It feels like the country is in crisis when it comes to social support. It’s frustrating to watch and, believe us, even more frustrating to experience.

Watch the video

Watch the video below to find out how Margaret recently helped someone who had had to move house because of ill health, but found herself socially isolated in an area she didn’t know.

*names have been changed

ashtray

Helping people to stop smoking

Almost three quarters of smokers say they would like to quit.

But it’s not easy. More than a third (39%) go on to attempt it each year but only a small proportion (about 5%) successfully stop smoking.

However, did you know that with specialist support — for example from a structured smoking cessation course — smokers are up to four times more likely to successfully quit, compared to those who try and stop without any support?

stoptober 2018That’s why we are using our extensive experience to provide tailored courses, held in the workplace, for businesses who want to help their employees to quit.

Over the last month, we’ve been helping groups of employees to prepare to give up smoking with some tailored Quit Smoking courses for Stoptober, but we’d love to extend this offer to more companies and workplaces.

Supporting your employees to stop smoking won’t just benefit their health – it will be benefit your business. According to Public Health England, people who smoke take an average of two or three days more sick leave per year. Together with lost productivity from regular cigarette breaks, employees who smoke are estimated to cost UK businesses £7.5 billion a year.

Smoking is something that Gateway’s health and wellbeing teams have been helping people with for many years (you might be interested in this blog post we published in 2013, The Smoking Challenge, about the ways in which our Health Trainers and Pregnancy Outreach Workers tackled the subject with the people they worked with). So we’ve used our extensive experience to design sessions that we know will engage people, and help them to build the confidence to make important changes.

As a not-for-profit CIC, any profit we make is reinvested in the education, employment, health and wellbeing of the people we work with across the West Midlands.

What happens on a smoking cessation course?

The smoking cessation courses that Gateway runs are led by a qualified smoking cessation facilitator and take place on site, at your place of work. We can accommodate up to 15 people per session and each session (which lasts around an hour) is tailored to the people in the group.

The sessions focus on preparation: the group leaders encourage people to look ahead to a time when they no longer smoke, and then they go through all the typical worries that smokers have about giving up.

For example, a lot of people worry about putting on weight, or struggling to control their mood swings — so there are sessions on managing stress and combating food cravings.

Mental wellbeing is very important so the courses cover the “Five Ways to Wellbeing”, too. It’s all about making lifestyle changes and feeling in control.

smoothie bikeAs well as the taught elements, there are plenty of opportunities for discussion — because we know from experience that sharing experiences and worries as a group really helps people to make positive changes. Like all of our work, these courses include a lot of client-led planning and support.

We can also help people to access further healthy activities if they want to (and they often do, once they start making changes!). We can even bring some fun healthy activities into the workplace, like the Smoothie Bike.

By looking ahead and focusing on behaviour change, Gateway smoking cessation courses build resilience and make sure people who want to give up smoking are as prepared as they can be when they finally quit. Statistics show that being prepared and following “stages” not only helps people to stop but, more importantly, helps the changes to stick.

If you’d like to support your employees to stop smoking, give Jemma Abbott at Gateway a call on 0121 456 7820 and ask about smoking cessation. We look forward to helping you create a healthier workplace!

smartphone

Going digital to extend healthy benefits

Over the last year, we’ve started encouraging people to use a digital app to stay in touch after their health and wellbeing courses end.

WhatsApp App - Zoom by Christoph ScholzBecause so many people on our 12 week Lighten Up For Life course were telling us they wanted to keep in contact with each other, we decided to make it part of the process. Now, when the 12 weeks are up, if people are interested, we help them to create a group chat, using the popular messaging service WhatsApp.

We’ve found that this doesn’t just help people to sustain the behavioural changes they’ve made over the time they’ve been doing the course – there’s also an important social aspect. Lots of people told us they enjoyed the social side of the meetings, including some who said this was the only social interaction they’d had in a while, so WhatsApp helps people to develop and extend these social relationships. It also allows us to extend the intervention for slightly longer, and to wind down support rather than ending it abruptly when the 12 weeks are up.

Health and Wellbeing Facilitator Beckie says, “we now have groups from courses we’ve run at Bosworth and Crabtree Hall using WhatsApp. They use it to inform each other of their progress, any issues they’ve had, recipe ideas, and generally to see how each other are and share ideas.”

It also seems to increase the likelihood of people doing further healthy activities. We think this is because they now have an ongoing peer support group based around a common interest.

Gateway Health and Wellbeing teamBeckie (pictured second from left) says, “five people who were on a course together at Bosworth have now joined a local ‘sitting yoga’ exercise group – none of them were doing an activity before but now they all attend this together. Another lady who attended one of our first 12 week courses has now set up a healthy eating and meditation group of her own. She said she wouldn’t have had the confidence or knowledge to do something like this if it hadn’t been for our group.”

Like everything we do at Gateway, this initiative came from – and has been led by – the people we work with. Course participants told us they wanted to keep in touch, so we helped them to make it happen. We decided on WhatsApp because many people already use it and if they don’t, it’s free to set up and simple to use. Our Health and Wellbeing Facilitators help people to install the app on their phones, then stay in the WhatsApp group for a short time after the course has ended, answering questions and giving encouragement. Eventually, we phase out our input and the group continues on its own.

Out of interest, we have found WhatsApp groups to be more successful and longer-lasting than Facebook groups. This is reflected in this study from 2015, which found that WhatsApp groups successfully helped people who were trying to stop smoking. Researchers theorised that Whatsapp has fewer distractions than Facebook, and that digital interventions like this work better when people can only use it on their phones.

Having seen the benefits, we are now expanding the idea, and staff in all our services that have a social aspect – including Five Ways to Wellbeing courses, the Maternity Voices Partnership, Patient Health Forums, and Peer Educators – now give people the option of joining a group chat if they want to.

Gateway Health and Wellbeing team

Local businesses get a taste of new Workplace Wellbeing services

Margaret, Jemma and Reshma with the Smoothie BikeOn 19th July, we officially launched our Workplace Wellbeing services with a free Workplace Health Taster Day.

The hospitality suite at the Chamber of Commerce building became a “health centre” for the day, with free activities including blood pressure and BMI checks (with personalised advice based on the results), an introduction to Tai Chi, impairment goggles that highlight the effects of alcohol, and even a smoothie bike, creating pedal-powered healthy drinks!

Marri on a smoothie bike
Finance Administrator Marri pedalled for his smoothie in record time!

Representatives from more than 60 local employers — including most of the organisations based at the Chamber building, Morrisons supermarket, Newman University and the Chamber itself — came along. They received a range of free support and advice from our experienced health professionals, with many choosing to pop back throughout the day to get involved in as many different activities as possible.

For these employers and employees, the Taster Day was a chance to find out how small health changes and preventative checks could have a big impact on working life.

Educating and supporting staff to actively manage their wellbeing has been shown to reduce absences and sickness levels, and to improve staff retention, motivation and productivity. Our Health and Wellbeing Facilitators gave BMI and blood pressure checks, which can be a really important indicator of wider issues or underlying health problems. Activities like the smoothie bike and the impairment goggles are fun, but they also provoke some really interesting conversations about health and the impact of good and bad habits, which our Behaviour Change Advisers were on hand to facilitate.

A training opportunity for us

As well as promoting our Workplace Wellbeing services, and testing our expanded offer, the Taster Day was really useful for our staff to gain more experience working with people from the corporate sector. Although our Health and Wellbeing Facilitators have worked with thousands of individuals in local communities over the years, supporting people in the workplace is slightly different, so we’re keen to make sure our delivery of these new packages runs as smoothly as possible.

Attendees receive an introduction to Tai Chi
Attendees receive an introduction to Tai Chi
For example, time is much more of a factor when people have been sent by an employer to get a health check within work time, or are visiting in their lunch hour – but our Facilitators quickly got used to the time restrictions at the event. Thanks to their years of previous experience, they were able to complete the mini consultations efficiently, and to spot where the focus of their advice for each person needed to be almost immediately, whilst maintaining their friendly, personal approach.

Because people are referred to our Workplace Wellbeing services by their employer rather than their doctor, these corporate health interventions also have a very slightly different focus. Although Gateway staff still take a “whole person” approach, and work one-to-one with the individual to get a picture of their health, conversations about work need to come to the forefront, and all the advice is given in the context of the workplace.

Ready to work with workplaces

It was wonderful to see how well our staff worked together to create a fun but informative event, and we’d like to thank everyone that came along and helped us create such a buzzing atmosphere. Visitors told us they were inspired by what they’d learned, and were going back to work feeling motivated, which was great to hear! But not only did we have lots of fun, we’ll be able to use what we learned on the day to make future Workplace Wellbeing services even more useful.

If you’d like to find out more about Gateway Workplace Wellbeing packages, or to run a similar event at your workplace, take a look at our Workplace Wellbeing pages or give Jemma or Keith a call on 0121 456 7820.

Gateway’s donations “pad out” foodbank donations campaign

We were horrified to read recent research showing that one in ten girls aged 14-21 have been unable to afford sanitary products. So when we heard about the Birmingham Live “#BrumFeeds” campaign, we knew straight away how we wanted to help.

#BrumFeeds aimed to collect 100 tonnes of food for Trussell Trust foodbanks, by holding the biggest single food donation the city has ever seen. Last Friday, people were encouraged to donate at three city centre locations for “The Big Drop”.

Caroline and Debbie donate to BrumFeeds Big DropAt Gateway, we decided that our contribution should focus on sanitary products. After all, we know that people don’t usually give as many toiletries as they do tins of beans! So office staff held a donation drive in our office, and on Friday we donated hundreds of tampons and sanitary towels to the #BrumFeeds collection point in Victoria Square. You can watch Caroline and Debbie dropping them off in the video below.

We always knew Brummies were a generous lot, but we were pleased to see how many people donated to the campaign. Birmingham Live reported that over a tonne of donations were made in just a few hours! We hope that our donation helped a little bit, and perhaps even raised people’s awareness of the problem of period poverty.

What is Period Poverty?

Put simply, period poverty is the problem of being unable to afford sanitary products.

A January 2018 report from Plan International UK says, “Period poverty has previously been seen as an external issue affecting lower income countries. However, in the context of austerity and the rise of homelessness and foodbank use, combined with a lack of supportive and accessible menstrual health management education, it is also being experienced here in the UK.”

Plan International UK’s survey on menstruation found that one in 10 (10%) of girls have been unable to afford sanitary products. It also found that:

  • One in seven girls (15%) have also struggled to afford sanitary wear.
  • One in seven girls (14%) have had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues.
  • More than one in ten girls (12%) has had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.
  • One in five (19%) of girls have changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost.

In “I, Daniel Blake”, Katie is caught shoplifting sanitary products. Last year, Rightinfo.org reported that donations of sanitary products to foodbanks increased after the film’s release.
At Gateway, many of the people we work with are living with disadvantage. We know from our experiences with the Pregnancy Outreach Workers Service, and our current social prescribing service Healthy Futures, that women who are facing financial constraints will often go without themselves, so that their families can have food.

We fully support the efforts of charities like The Red Box Project, The Homeless Period and Bloody Good Period to try and dispel some of the myths and embarrassment surrounding periods, and to make tampons, towels and other related toiletries more accessible to everyone who needs them.

Why donate sanitary items to foodbanks?

We often refer people to Trussell Trust foodbanks, and we have our own small bank of food and toiletries for emergencies, but we know from experience that sanitary products are just not something people normally give when they donate to foodbanks.

Indeed, Trussell Trust includes sanitary products in its list of non-food donation items, saying “It’s natural that the first thing anyone thinks to donate to a foodbank is food, but toiletries and hygiene products are also extremely important. Alongside the standard food parcel, foodbanks try to provide […] essential non-food items to adults and children in crisis, helping them maintain dignity and feel human again.”

(“I, Daniel Blake” screenshot: IFC films via rightsinfo.org)

Lighten Up For Life logo

Lighten Up for Summer!

Our weight management course with a difference, Lighten Up For Life, is currently recruiting for May – so if you live in Solihull, have a BMI over 30, and would like some specialist help… read on!

Like other weight management groups, Lighten Up For Life helps people to lose weight by providing a support group with information and regular weigh-ins. But there are some big differences too. For a start: it’s FREE!

preparing healthy pizza at practical session
Session 8 is a practical session – preparing healthy pizza

Unlike many other groups, Lighten Up For Life provides support from a team of professional health specialists, including qualified Health Trainers, a Dietitian and a Behaviour Change Specialist who has formal training in health psychology.

The 12 Lighten Up For Life sessions include physical activities tailored for each group, ways to manage stress, tips about cooking healthy food on a budget, and even help to get your family on board. We welcome partners and family members at the sessions, because if they understand what changes you’re making and why, you’ll be more likely to stick to new routines. (And yes, it’s free for them too!)

Although Lighten Up For Life offers brilliant peer support, and you may even make some lifelong friends, this isn’t a club you’ll be going back to again and again. So in these 12 weeks, we’ll arm you with all the information, tools and support you need to make sure you and your family can continue to live more healthily in the long term.

Successes so far

First LUFL group with their completion certificates
The first group with their completion certificates

Our first Lighten Up For Life groups started in January, and last week our very first group finished their 12 week course. Crucially, all of them say they’re confident that the changes they’ve made over the last three months are lifelong changes.

Group members have told us they feel more optimistic and more knowledgeable about leading a sustainable healthy lifestyle now, and that they’re more active than they had been before – even those who have been to other commercial weight loss groups in the past. We’re really proud of them!

Not only do they all have a greater understanding of government guidelines and how to implement them in their own lives, but they’ve got hands-on, practical knowledge too. Everyone in the group has been able to try new healthy alternatives to favourite treats, and everyone is sharing the information they have learnt with their families. Several members had brought their partners along for at least some of the sessions, and they also lost weight, which is really great to hear.

They’ve also made special mention of the social aspect of the group, so we’ve helped them to set up a WhatsApp group to continue this peer support, and we’ll be in touch in a few months’ time to see how they’re getting on.

Lighten Up For Life is a free 12 week programme, funded by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council. The next groups are recruiting now and sessions will be at Bosworth Community Centre in Chelmsley Wood. If you’d like to join, call 0121 456 7820 and ask about the Lighten Up For Life 12 week course to find out if you are eligible.