Tag: health

Youth employment opportunities: introducing ‘Making Health Work’

This week, we have been recruiting volunteer Health Ambassadors for our new Big Lottery-funded programme, Making Health Work.

Healthy-Conversations-logoWe’re launching the project in partnership with the Foyer Federation; the idea comes from Foyer’s Healthy Conversations programme, which aims to give young people the understanding, opportunities and networks to improve the health and wellbeing of themselves, their peers and their communities.

With Making Health Work, we aim to help young people to have Healthy Conversations with a focus on work and employment.

Health and work go hand in hand

The programme aims to get young people thinking about the ways in which work impacts on health … and health impacts on work. Our new Health Ambassadors will create conversations to address the health and lifestyle issues that sometimes create barriers for young jobseekers.

Eating healthily, doing physical activity and taking care of your mental health will all give you a good grounding in preparation for employment. But there are deeper and broader issues around health and wellbeing that can affect your working life too. Things like having friends who are a positive influence, having a good social circle to provide some support, even just knowing how to access services, and having access to good food at a reasonable cost, can all affect your health and have a positive impact upon your ability to work.

In turn, work can be good for your health. It gives you a reason to leave the house each day and stay active. It helps you develop the sleeping and eating routines that your body needs. It helps you to meet people and widen your social circle.

In short, we believe that facilitating Healthy Conversations between young people can give them the skills and background to sustain employment.

Could you, or someone you know, be a Health Ambassador?

Danny Fryer, Talent Agent for Making Health Work, said “we’re looking for Health Ambassadors aged between 18 and 25 to come and work with us in these volunteer roles. The Health Ambassadors will help us to deliver the programme through one-to-one coaching sessions with other young people and conversation groups, as well as activities like Health Taster Days and Social Action Projects”.

Volunteers will be given specialist training for the Making Health Work project as well as having access to the same training and ongoing support that all Gateway volunteers receive.

The specialised training includes two days working with Youth At Risk, full training on the Healthy Conversations resource pack, and training from the Mental Health Foundation. Volunteers will learn coaching techniques and find out how to lead discussions around mental and physical health.

On Wednesday, a group of potential volunteers came to our first recruitment session and held their own conversation group. The Ambassadors will be setting goals for others, so the session provided some practical demonstrations of the sort of work they could be doing. If you think you might be interested in coming along to the next one, give us a ring on 0121 456 7820 and ask about Health Ambassadors.

Pathways to employment

Skills-EscalatorMaking Health Work is a really good addition to our Skills Escalator (right; click for full size). Once the Health Ambassadors are trained, they can go on to take up other volunteering opportunities with Gateway, such as Befriending, or supporting Pop Up Talent. And, of course, as with our other volunteer programmes, they will have the opportunity to move up and become apprentices and paraprofessionals.

The links between employment and physical and mental health are clear to us (after all, health and employment are what we do!) so we are really pleased to be leading a programme that provides pathways to employment in this way – especially one that works with younger people.


A new start for the Personal Health Forum

Gateway has recently been asked to help run a Personal Health Forum for people with long term health conditions.

The Forum, which has been running for a few years, is primarily a support group but, as is the case with many such groups, they’ve been struggling to gain the funding they need to keep going over the last few years. So, recognising that this group is valuable for consultation purposes, Birmingham South Central CCG has offered to cover their running costs in return for some “patient insights” and feedback about the health services they all use.

patient forum 1Gateway will be facilitating the group sessions and, in doing so, offering some practical advice and information about services, as well as organising the feedback from members. We’re well placed to do this, of course; our established links across the south of the city, through the provision of our Health Trainer service, should be valuable to the group.

There’s a very important social side to the Forum, too. Having a long term health condition can be quite isolating at times, so this is an opportunity to get together with others who understand what it’s like. One group member said, “this is the only group I know of for people with long term conditions. There are groups for particular issues – diabetes sufferers, asthma, stroke clubs – but this is the only group I know of that brings people together with different issues, and it’s all the better for that”.

The Forum meets six times a year; every two months. Members plan the agenda themselves, including suggestions for guest speakers and activities. Gateway has taken on the practical side of things – we manage the budget and make all the arrangements for each meeting, including booking the venue, catering, speakers and activities – and even providing transport for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.

As well as this, of course, we will collect the patients’ feedback in a way that’s useful for everyone. We will provide the CCGs with information about what it’s like for people to live with and manage a long term condition, as well as the availability of health services and the sort of support people feel they have received. We will also try and encourage group members to go to more health service events.

Why Gateway?

We’re very pleased that we’ve been asked to be part of this new partnership, as the Personal Health Forum fits in so well with the rest of our work and our ethos. We’re here to listen, to help give patients a voice, to help people who might otherwise be isolated, and to influence services, and our work with the Forum will do all of these things.

The group is keen to boost their membership, and to help more people benefit from the support they provide, so the link with Health Trainers is a useful one. Many Health Trainers are already engaging with GP practices and their patients in the area the forum covers, and many of these patients have long term conditions that their Health Trainer is helping them manage, so it’s hoped that some of these people may be interested in getting involved.

Health Trainer Glenn Rodgers said, “I’ve already got a client in mind and I’m going to be encouraging them to come along. It would be an incentive to get out of the house and an opportunity to talk with like-minded people. The group gives members the opportunity to comment about health services, whether it be positive or negative, and to have their voices heard.”

patient forum 2The first Gateway-facilitated session took place at the beginning of March and 19 group members took part. After some introductions from the CCG and Gateway, and a chat about how the Forum will work going forward, the group had a guest speaker from the British Legion Handyperson Scheme, then a buffet lunch and some time for socialising.

Personal Health Forum Committee member Pauline (pictured in the centre of the photo on the left) said, “after a couple of difficult years I am now feeling much more positive about the future of the group. This welcome partnership has given us the chance for the group to grow and flourish so I hope we will keep old members and gain many new. Our thanks go to Gateway and the CCG for giving us this opportunity.”

If you have a long term health condition and you’re interested in joining the Personal Health Forum, give Maxine a call at Gateway on 0121 456 7820. You need to live, or be registered with a GP, in South Birmingham.

Lifestyle services working together

Birmingham City Council are seeking views on current lifestyle services from the people who use them or link in with them – and you’ve got until this Sunday, 2nd March Monday 31st March* to have your say.

Lifestyle services include our very own Health Trainers and Lighten Up, but also services like Be Active, Health Checks and Stop Smoking Services. The council wants to hear what works well and how they could improve services in the future. As the Be Heard website explains, they think a more integrated approach may be the way forward:

The traditional approach to improving lifestyles in the City has been to focus on individual service areas that do not necessarily complement each other. This has led to specific programmes for stopping smoking, healthy weight and others. In the more deprived areas of Birmingham many of these programmes and services target the same groups(s) of people (e.g. a person that is quitting smoking may also benefit from physical activity or weight management services). Moving towards an integrated approach that helps people tackle different issues may help ensure services are more easily accessible.

We agree that it makes sense for services to work together in a more joined-up way. It would be good for clients to have a single point of contact to arrange access for all the health and lifestyle services.

Treating the whole person

Health Trainers build up relationships with their clients over time; they have a holistic approach, which is why they signpost people to other services. As we’ve said before on this blog, we often find that a Health Trainer’s encouragement, in a one to one session, can help people to kick-start a “chain” of lifestyle changes. But it would be even better if they didn’t then have to send clients back to their GP to get the referrals they need.


What our clients say

Health Trainer clients Craig, Annette and Maureen all received encouragement from their Health Trainers, together with signposting to other services, which led to some big lifestyle changes. You can hear them talking about their experiences in this audio clip:

Have your say

Whether you’ve used any of the city’s lifestyle services before, or even if you’ve only thought about it, we’d like to encourage you to tell the Council what you think.

And if you feel that Gateway already helps to “simplify the referral pathway”, then do let them know that too!

Visit the Be Heard website to answer the online questionnaire.

*The consultation deadline has been extended. Please check the Be Heard website for the latest details.

Having an impact every day: Lighten Up

This week we’re continuing with our series of Having An Impact posts, giving an insight into how our different services are making a difference – in the words of the people using them.

Having an impact every day: Pregnancy Outreach Workers
Having an impact every day: Health Trainers

This week: the Lighten Up call centre

Lighten Up team at workAs Lighten Up staff member Liz Barber explained last week: “Our job is to take referrals and then contact the person wanting help with losing weight. We then help them choose a suitable provider, make sure they know when and where the meeting is, and send them all the info they need. After the first week we ring them to make sure all’s OK and then we carry on phoning them at regular intervals to check on their progress.”

The Lighten Up call centre doesn’t deliver the weight loss sessions; these are done by a number of providers. In fact, the call centre staff rarely meet the people they support, as their job is done via the telephone. What the call centre does is to make sure the process works and that the person using the service gets as much out of it as possible.

As Lisa Cruice, the team’s manager says: “We like to call what we do ‘wrap-around support.’ Our focus is to keep each person on track – so if there are problems, we sort them out, and if the person is struggling with motivation, we give them encouragement.”

So, as you’ll see, the mixture of attending the weight loss sessions and receiving regular calls from the Lighten Up call centre work hand in hand to provide a complete service.

Here’s a selection of the responses taken directly from the Podnosh Impact Assessment App, in the last ten days. As ever, the question is “how have we helped you today?”


Jane gave a happiness rating of 100% and said:

It’s nice someone is thinking about you.

Graham told us that Lighten Up gave him the kickstart he needed:

I am now into the swing of things with Slimming World and finding Slimming World more helpful. But don’t get me wrong, if it wasn’t for you in the first place I wouldn’t have had the incentive to do it anyway.

Joyce, who’s retired, wants to lose weight to help with her overall health:

Now I know that I am being sent my referral voucher and that I can start on Thursday. It’s much better than just being sent somewhere by your GP. It is good there is a freephone number to call and a team to support you.

Michelle has struggled with her weight for a while but is now with Rosemary Conley. We can see from the app that she benefits from chatting with the Lighten Up staff about her achievements during every call. This week, she said:

The call has helped me feel good about losing a stone.

Vanessa chose to take up the Health Trainers service, but she still gets support from Lighten Up:

It’s nice for you guys to keep in contact to see how I’m getting on and its nice to know you are interested how my weight loss is going.

John used the call to psyche himself up for a challenge that evening:

I’ve got a office do tonight at a chinese restaurant so I have to measure my portions. Being on a flexible plan leaves me 49 “floating points” a week so I can use some of them tonight. Your call will help me prime myself and keep to the challenge.

For Anne, the answer to “how have we helped you today” was simple:

By making me want to go to the class.

Allison is with Weight Watchers but appreciates the extra support:

Well its nice to be remembered and not just given the vouchers and left to get on with it yourself… so yes, its been helpful.

Judy is losing weight so that she can have an operation:

It was absolutely wonderful. Thanks for phoning and checking up on me.


In an average 10 days the team will sign up 212 new clients and they will make 2080 calls. Last year, the team supported their clients to lose a total of 1945 stone. So you see – it works!

Maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy – with Maternal Lighten Up

Maternal Lighten UpOne in five pregnant women in Birmingham is overweight and so run a higher risk of complications during pregnancy. So the Maternal Lighten Up service is here to help women maintain a healthy weight in the months leading up to birth.

Unlike the general Lighten Up service, Maternal Lighten Up isn’t about weight loss – as Liz Barber, the Maternal Lighten Up Administrator, explains: “It’s probably a bit weird to be told ‘you’re overweight, but you can’t lose it’ – but, during your pregnancy, it’s all about helping you limit your weight gain. The services we refer our clients to can help them to do that in a healthy way.”

The city-wide service gets the majority of its referrals – women who are up to 28 weeks pregnant with a BMI of over 30 – from midwives. Clients are given the choice of three services to take up:

  • Maternal Health Trainers give one to one advice and a tailored programme of healthy eating and exercise to help maintain healthy weight gain during pregnancy
  • Birthfit is a programme of gentle exercise tailored to each stage of pregnancy and to individual needs, including specific advice about preparing for the birth
  • Slimming World offers classes for general weight loss, but pregnant women can join the classes to learn general healthy eating and exercise tips

Liz says, “going by the latest figures, nearly half the clients choose to go with the Maternal Health Trainer service. But whichever path they take, we will offer regular calls to see how they’re getting on and to offer extra support should they need it. Sometimes, if there are other issues besides their weight, this can mean putting them in touch with other services, such as our Pregnancy Outreach Workers”.

And after the other services finish, the support from Gateway continues. “Even after the birth, we encourage mums to carry on their healthy regime, and lose weight, by joining our general Lighten Up service”.

Kerry’s story

Kerry started with the Maternal Lighten Up programme in December 2012, at 13 weeks pregnant, after being referred by her Midwife for support with her weight management.  Pregnancy was nothing new, as this was her third baby, but in previous pregnancies she had put on a lot of weight and this time round she wanted to be better prepared.

After a discussion with Liz about the options available, Kerry opted for Birthfit, a weekly antenatal exercise class run by a former midwife, that would help keep her active during her pregnancy.

When Kerry began the course with Birthfit in January she was nearly 17st and, after attending every week, her weight gain remained stable. At 35 weeks she had gained just under a stone.

In April, Kerry said “I wish this service had been around in my previous pregnancies, where I put on two or three stone”. She says that the support from Maternal Lighten Up was “brilliant”, and that the tailored exercises she practiced through Birthfit helped her back problems more than physiotherapy sessions had done.

Kerry, who had her baby in June, also said that, being a third time mum, she really didn’t expect to learn anything new, but “I was amazed to be learning new things every week. I thought the programme was brilliant and would recommend the service to any mums to be”.

Rachel’s story

After Rachel was referred to Maternal Lighten Up, she chose to work with a Maternal Health Trainer, Richard McKenzie, who helped her to come up with her own healthy eating and exercise plan. She saw the benefits straight away, and made this statement just two weeks after her initial appointment: “I’m finding it motivating keeping the behaviour diary and monitoring my food and activity. I feel that my diet and exercise level has been good over the last two weeks and in balance.”

Richard has helped Rachel to stick to her healthy eating plan and regular sessions of yoga, and now she’s on track to give birth without having put on too much extra weight. In this video, taken just last week, she tells us, “I’m feeling really positive!”

Focusing more on people and less on strategy

Over the years I’ve been working in social inclusion in Birmingham, I’ve seen many strategies announced in the name of innovation. But inequalities persist; people still need help.

strategiesAbove our heads, the governments change, the policies change and the language changes. New reports are produced and new boards are set up to respond. Everything needs a “radical new approach”. But when you look into the details of any of these strategies, the point is the same: inequalities need reducing.

Even the specifics remain: to reduce smoking, reduce obesity, increase physical activity, live a healthy lifestyle and prevent people becoming ill.

Instead of focusing on the constants, however, each new strategy seems to require starting all over again. I find it immensely frustrating.

Take mapping exercises. Every time a new strategy is announced and a new group of people are put together to respond, they seem to start with a mapping exercise. Over and over again the deprived areas of the city are drawn and redrawn. I’ve seen them marked in different colours; as circles, as tube maps. By wards and by constituencies. Named as “spearhead areas”, or “super output areas”. Given “hubs” and “spokes”. But the poorest people haven’t moved! We all know where the work needs to focus, but it seems more important to illustrate that information in a hundred different ways instead of just getting down and tackling it.

Gateway is focused; Gateway is consistent

All of these stop and start strategies – and their mapping exercises – distract from the real point: that poorer people live riskier lives, have higher rates of infant death, early death from heart disease and a poorer quality of life in older age.

When Gateway started, we listened to people. We started from where they were, we involved them. We helped people with the things that put them at higher risk: smoking, diet, lifestyle, poverty, economic activity, chaotic lives. And – despite a million new reforms and reviews – this hasn’t changed.

We have always set out to reduce inequalities in learning, employment and health and we have been doing this consistently now for seven years. In that time we have worked with over 20,000 people in Birmingham and have helped reduce risks that lead to inequalities.

Because of Gateway:

  • People have lost 4000 stone
  • Nearly 200 long-term unemployed people are now in long-term jobs
  • Over 1000 qualifications have been gained
  • People are smoking 1.85 million fewer cigarettes

We haven’t changed – even though strategies have changed – and this means that we can focus on people who need us. Consistency counts. We use our skills and experience to spend our time supporting people. We are lean and efficient; our data is clear and links to outcomes.

New strategies from above always look to the future, but they fail to capture the past. As I’ve said before on this blog, innovation isn’t always needed – it’s development, refinement and evolution that helps good services become great.

But in the political world, one thing stops and another thing starts. And when everything has to start again – and again and again – millions of pounds worth of skills, systems, training, experience and support are lost.

What a waste.

Making things simple

This video from the Kings Fund explains in simple terms how the latest NHS organisations work and fit together. It’s no wonder we’re confused.

And meanwhile… Gateway continues to address the problems directly and consistently.

Bike hire scheme – Sharon’s story

At the end of last year, you may remember we started a bike hire scheme. We bought two bikes and began hiring them out to Health Trainer clients who wanted to give cycling a go.

Cycling is a great way of getting exercise without costing the earth and it’s a good alternative to jogging or walking. It’s not always easy to get started, but our bike hire scheme is a great introduction.

Now that the weather has picked up, we are starting to see more and more people taking advantage of the scheme. One of those people is Sharon, who borrowed a bike during UK Bike Week at the end of June.

Here is Sharon’s story, in her own words:

I want to ride my bicycle

By Sharon McGarel, Gateway client

Sharon McGarelHave you ever heard of those far-off beauty spots that haven’t been discovered by tourists? Only problem is, everyone’s read the same article, so by the time you phone up, it’s fully booked. Well, I’m glad to say the same wasn’t true of the bike hire scheme offered by Gateway Family Services.

It’s been 17 years since I last rode a bike, but I have been considering buying one for a couple of months now. Each time, I drift away to the classic cycling scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; I feel the sun on my face as I ride along in a summer haze. Quickly I’m brought back with a bump to the last time I rode a bike, when I hit a pot hole and went face first over the handle bars of my bike, on Longbridge traffic island with an articulated lorry behind me. Ouch!

Bike maintenanceThe thing is, I do love a challenge and my health trainer told me that I can hire a bicycle for free – yes, free! So with UK cycling week between 15 and 23 June 2013, what better time to hire one of the two bicycles available (by the way, did I mention it’s free)? And included in the hire is a helmet, puncture repair kit and pump, too – not bad, and a few less barriers to giving it a go.

After a few laps of the car park at Gateway Family Services, a few crash-landings on the cross bar and a close encounter with a bush, I look a little less like bambi and head off intrepidly towards the public roads and pathways of Birmingham. As the scheme is still fairly undiscovered, I was able to keep the bike for a whole week, which meant I could build my confidence and stamina a little each day.
[Editor’s note: most people borrow the bikes for a weekend, but if there isn’t a waiting list when you ask, there’s nothing to stop you borrowing them for a week!]

Practice ride round the gardenTwelve months ago, I was a fully paid up member of the no self-esteem club and even sitting in the garden made me tired and sad, for the want of a better word. No matter how warm it was, I wore a big woolly jumper to keep the fresh air at bay, and the thought of exercise induced sleep.

But this last week I’ve been cycling in parks, going really fast up and down the road as if I were 10 years old and discovering loads of information about group rides, from “easy” to “oh my, that is a challenge”.

I recently saw a bumper sticker on a social network page that read, “I don’t cycle to add years to my life, I cycle to add life to my years”. I couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to buy my own bike, learn how to maintain it, understand gear sets and just get out there and experience some of the life I’ve spent years missing out on.

We spoke with Sharon at the Gateway party and she told us a bit more about her new passion:

And, as if this wasn’t enough of a happy ending, Sharon contacted us again this week to tell us there’s a sequel to her story:

Sharon's new bikeI have a neighbour who I help by mowing his lawn and just keeping an eye on him, dropping things in he needs and bake him the odd cake etc. He texted me yesterday to see if I could help him with something he needed doing. I dropped over today to help him, only to find he had a surprise for me.

Knowing I was interested in getting a bike and having been into building and maintaining bikes as a youngster, he has been looking about for me. He had seen a pre-loved bike yesterday, got it delivered and refused to let me pay him for it. So that’s about five years of lawn mowing I owe him now.

So did the bike hire scheme inspire me to get a bike? Oh yes it did – and what a glorious day for cycling!

We’re so pleased to hear stories like this – it just shows: good things can make other good things happen!

If you feel inspired to get pedalling and you’d like to hire one of our bikes, just ask your Health Trainer. You too could be “adding life to your years”!

Losing weight with help from a Health Trainer

When our Health Trainers help people to lose weight, they don’t recommend dieting. Instead, they help people to make lifestyle changes that will go far beyond the few months they’re with the service.

Derek’s story

Wayne with DerekDerek was referred to a Health Trainer by his GP seven months ago to get some help to lose weight.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he says, “but Wayne was really good. Within an hour I had found out the best way forward with my eating habits.”

The main change for Derek was to start eating regular meals and getting into a routine that included breakfast, lunch and an evening meal. He cut out snacks and fizzy drinks and started including more fruit and vegetables in his meals.

“I lost 6 stone,” says Derek. “I’m a driving instructor and my seat was that far back, no-one could sit behind me. Now they can. I’m a big man, so this makes a huge difference to me.”

And it’s clear he’s happy with his new lifestyle.

“People stop me and say ‘are you on a diet?’ but I say ‘no, I’m healthy eating’. It’s nice for me – it gives me confidence and I feel really good at losing the weight.”

Gemma’s story

Gemma - beforeFor Gemma, it was a question of motivation. She joined Slimming World at the end of November last year but, thanks to her Health Trainer, she’s kept at it.

In her final statement she said, “I can’t believe it! I joined Slimming World and lost 25 pounds in weight.”

Again, the benefits of the changes she’s made are obvious.

“I feel good – I was a size 20 and now I’m a 16,” she says. “My joints don’t ache half as much, I’ve got more energy and I’ve reduced my risk of long term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

“I have to say a big thank you to my health trainer, who has been amazing throughout. When I had a tough time, he was the one motivating me.”

Volunteers make all the difference to heart patients

Volunteers are making a real difference to how well heart patients stick with their recovery programmes. In a new initiative, Gateway volunteers have joined up with the cardio team at University Hospital Birmingham to support patients as they get well.  Kate Gee, a nurse consultant for coronary heart disease at  University Hospital Birmingham, describes how volunteering helps the patients – and the volunteers.