Written by: Kelly Bainbridge , You've Got This Ambassador

I work across the Tees Valley leading on social prescribing, which means I help patients improve their health, wellbeing and social welfare by connecting them to community and voluntary services. Middlesbrough Council employs me, but my role is also closely aligned with the Tess Valley’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) and public health.

Why did you get involved in the YGT movement?

When the You’ve Got This (YGT) program launched they asked me to speak at the inaugural event about the fall prevention work I have been involved in ‘Steady On Your Feet’ (SOYF).

This work aimed to reduce falls and related injuries in people aged 65 and over, it was transformational as it took a whole-systems change approach, and this mirrored the principles YGT were trying to achieve.

Eighteen months had passed since we had started the falls programme and I was able to demonstrate that as a result of everybody working together, buying into the vision and understanding what we wanted to achieve that the program was a success.

One of the key things that linked well with this work and the YGT initiative was the fact that no financial incentive was involved. It was about getting the right people committed to the idea, working together and doing the right thing, which again are the same principles YGT are trying to achieve. So there were synergies, and I could see that working together would be beneficial.

The YGT movement also fits well with where I am. I have the mindset that if it’s the right thing to do, we need to work together to make things better for our community. Even if there isn’t a financial incentive to do so, it’s about how we get the system to integrate and work more collectively.

It was being part of something that works collectively to build relationships and trust in the community that resonated with me. I had already seen the benefits of co-production and the impact this had on people, and I wanted to share this learning with YGT.

As YGT progressed, so did my role, and I took on responsibility for social prescribing across the primary care networks. I realised what the YGT team were trying to achieve across South Tees was a robust, systematic approach to social prescribing that required us to work together to achieve results. The team was a vital link in embedding social prescribing in the community and raising awareness of the benefits of physical activity and how it can improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Why does YGT matter to you?

I believe it’s the right thing to do and that we need to work together to achieve things. Our systems and communities aren’t going to sustain themselves if we continue to work in isolation. I’m motivated to be involved because I believe in it, and through my role, I know I can make a difference.

At one of the YGT Exchange meetings, the ambassadors and supporters were asked to complete a postcard that asked what we were going to do to support the YGT vision of “active lives as a way of life”. It became a lightbulb moment for me. It sparked the realisation that I am accountable, and I can be responsible for helping others make the change and become more active too.

I’d been going out on my own for a walk at lunchtime as I saw it as an opportunity to get a bit of exercise, get some fresh air and clear my mind. I started thinking about how this small change had made a positive impact on my life, and that maybe this could benefit other people I worked with, and I invited them to take part.

About 12 people joined me, and they were all motivated by different reasons to get involved. Some wanted to lose weight, get a bit fitter, and others wanted to meet new people and improve their confidence and wellbeing. Each time we went out, we all got a little bit faster, some people started to lose weight, and we all genuinely looked forward to walking together. When COVID-19 hit, I quickly realised that people had lost their motivation and they weren’t walking anymore, so I started a virtual walking group to bring us all back together.

Doing this has made me realise that I can make small changes that in turn, can have a positive impact on other people’s health and wellbeing. It’s certainly changed my outlook about my physical wellbeing.

I’m living with a long-term health condition, and I had pretty much accepted that my life was always going to be filled with pain and there were things I wasn’t going to be able to do. But I switched my diet and started to realise that I had more energy, fewer dislocations and reduced infections. I decided to change my mindset and be more accountable for myself. I stopped thinking ‘I can’t do this’ and started telling myself ‘I can do more’ so I pushed myself further. I’ve been that person that expected my GP to prescribe pain medication as the solution, but now I’m feeling the benefits of being more active, and it’s better than any tablet.

YGT has also given me the ability to look at my role, my social circle and the wider community and explore how I can help more people be active as part of their daily life.

What projects are you working on professionally to support YGT?

The strategy and intervention program for the falls program SOYF, which I mentioned at the start is one of them. We identified that exercise is one of the most proactive things a person can do to avoid falling in later life. Falls aren’t an inevitable part of getting older; they are entirely changeable. Frailty is one of the leading causes of falls in older people. Understanding that when we are in our 40s, we should be working on our core balance, strength and exercising because what you do in this stage of our life will stop you from falling in later life.

Often people accept that it’s in their genes or everyone gets old and I’ll be the same. But it is in their control, and they can do something about it. Working with the YGT team, I’ve been able to connect with Ageing Better and demonstrate that we need to be more proactive about preventing falls in older people. We need to be thinking about the community-based groups that can support this message and help people understand that being active when you are younger can determine how frail you could be when you are older.

I’m passionate about the falls programme connecting with wider exercise and activity and getting a long-term commitment from the local authorities, public health and voluntary community sector to get behind this. If we could also link this into the YGT grant program and a more significant piece of work on social prescribing, we will start to see people benefit in later life.

The social prescribing work I do also aligns itself nicely with YGT. A good example is the work they have been doing on ‘Active Practice’ that champions the idea that GP’s should be facilitating conversations with patients about how active they are.

GP’s are the first person we turn to when something starts to go wrong with our health. There are not many circumstances where a GP couldn’t facilitate a conversation with a patient about how activity is the prescription rather than medication. We need to change the mindset of GP’s that it is something they should be talking about. We also need to change people’s attitudes towards activity and encourage them to be personally accountable about what they could be doing to help themself. A GP appointment for medication should be the last line of defence.

Sport England identified during the COVID-19 pandemic that social prescribing is one of their key areas of focus. We were quite forward-thinking in South Tees with YGT because we made that connection before it was a national priority. Meaning we are already ahead of the game locally, and we are building relationships with clinical directors, social prescribing providers and clinical leads about the importance of social prescribing. I’m continuously reiterating to GP’s the YGT ethos, the work they are doing and what this will mean for their patients. I’m hoping this will create some excellent long-term relationships for the YGT team.

What more do you think you could do?

I’m moving on from this job, so the best thing I can do is ensure that the next person who steps into the role takes it very seriously and embraces the YGT ethos and recognises the benefits of being involved. I want to make sure the person that takes over is proactive, can make those connections and will continue to drive forward the work achieved so far and build upon that.

Are you doing anything different yourself since you got involved with YGT?

Yes, I started running with the ‘Couch to 5k’ app. I’ve never considered myself a runner before. I don’t think I’ll be completing any marathons anytime soon, but the app is suitable for everyone. I started following it during the lockdown, it has motivated me, and I’m proud of my progress.

You would think living with a long-term health condition would prevent me from being active, but I want to be able to show other people that it is possible. Being active isn’t easy for me, but being involved in YGT has helped me understand the positive benefit it will have on my health and wellbeing. I’ve also thought about how I could influence other people in my family and community. Some of my family live in the key priority wards YGT are focusing on. I’ve talked to them about the benefits of being active and used my experience to motivate others.

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