Following the latest Government announcement, co-founders of Family Fit UK Paula Appleton and Andy Freeman outline the impact of the latest lockdown on the community, and highlight how activities are taking shape ahead of welcoming everybody back. Questions posed by Craig Smith (crseditorial.co.uk)
How can we help combat the adverse effects on both adults’ and children’s mental health that will have undeniably been caused as a result of a third lockdown?
Paula: The impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s health and well-being has been simply catastrophic, causing not only the obvious physical ill health, but increased stress, poor mental health, isolation, loneliness and loss of confidence across all age groups. We’re here to help with it all through getting people active together, having fun, getting fitter, meeting new friends and rebuilding resilience. Many people won’t want or be able to access gyms and leisure facilities when they re-open, but at Family Fit UK we have the perfect opportunity to provide a gateway to better health through local, free-to-access family activities.
Andy: Through positivity. COVID-19 has adversely affected people’s lives in such a diverse way. Firstly, it’s important to understand that this pandemic will subside to a point that we will be able to go back to normal, whatever that is. Things will be difficult at first [with people thinking] ‘can I do this?’ ‘can I go there?’ but as in previous world-changing events we have rebuilt and regrown. It’s in our nature to adapt to challenging circumstances and this is no different. We need to heal our wounds by reconnecting with others. This could be running meets, Family Fit UK activities, or even just social gatherings with others. The idea of having fun and spending time together with other people is going to be a global event, and including physical and mental activities will help support our recovery.
You are both well qualified to understand the resilience of children. When restrictions are lifted, do you see a return to normal straight away for these kids; almost as though they have never been away from your sessions? Or, do you envisage a staggered return to normality and participation?
Paula: We are delighted that outdoor activity is high on the lockdown easements agenda, especially with children returning to school from 8 March. We understand however that parents may be initially cautious about mixing with other adults. This will, of course, be managed by us in order to be compliant and to assure families that we are offering a safe environment. That aside, better weather and a desire to be outside (away from the kitchen tables, sofas and screens), be active, have fun and for free will be the drivers for families to attend our sessions. We delivered some sessions for children and young people during the school summer holidays last year and it was clear that the parents understood it was important for them to be active, but it had been difficult for them to get the children out of the house. Once there, the decline in the children’s fitness was painfully clear for us to see, with some of the children being sadly very overweight. A sedentary prolonged period of time coupled with almost continual snacking on sometimes unhealthy convenience foods in between meals had already taken its toll and that was at the end of the first lockdown.
Andy: Time is a great healer, as the saying goes. Children are the most resilient people I have ever met. They are faced with new challenges every day and yet seem to be able to adapt and move on. This will be difficult at first for some, but children and young people have the unique ability to acclimatise to different environments quite quickly, and this is no different.
Yes, children will need to feel confident to confide in people to explain how they are feeling. Children are also great absorbers and they will feed from your thoughts and feelings. Therefore, if you show positivity and strength in this situation, they will feed off you and react accordingly. Strength comes from unity from one another; if I support you, you will support me.
The family dynamic has been altered over the past six months to a year, with parents donning their teacher hats and siblings becoming classmates. How do you intend to ‘break’ this mould when a return to delivering your sessions is possible?
Paula: Family Fit UK sessions allow everyone to revert to childhood/childish behaviour! The activities and games that we play don’t need grown-ups to take charge. If anything, the children lead and the parents follow. We allow opportunities for team play and often see children joining other families either to even up numbers or just because they want to. This in turn means that the parents welcome those children on to ‘their’ teams and treat them just the same as their own. Family Fit UK sessions create a platform where everyone is equal and everyone has the same opportunity to get involved, regardless of age or ability. Everyone just has fun! Parents can leave their worries/responsibilities/grown-up selves at home and enjoy themselves like children, if only for that hour.
Andy: Engage, motivate and have FUN is probably the simplest way to answer your question. The best thing about Family Fit UK is that we encourage families to have fun and to be themselves. We want to see big kids and small kids having fun together. Our activities are designed to be easy to achieve. We don’t provide the added pressure like many other providers do. Our unique approach is quite subtle as we follow our repeat and refine model. Repeating similar or complementary skills over and over again but with different activities and games. This allows children and adults to make progress over time without the obvious knowledge of doing so. By using this model, we are able to deliver our activities and games at different levels for each child and adult. For example, if we are playing tag, the area size may be reduced for children but increased for adults (yes, the adults are the taggers as well!). This is all-inclusive and in-keeping with everyone playing the same game at the same time, but offering differentiated opportunities for diverse population groups.
What plans do Family Fit UK have to welcome back the fun times?
Paula: Now that we know the dates and under what terms we can resume sessions, we will be marketing to local families to let them know that Family Fit UK is back! Focusing on the fun in the fresh air element rather than the fitness improvement aspect, we want families to know that they can once again enjoy being together, meet others and have some fun!
Andy: We are at the starting blocks ready to go! We are simply waiting for the start gun to bang. Now that we have read the guidelines and restrictions in place, we will go to work in sounding the foghorn to make people aware of our Family Fit UK sessions starting back within our local area. As always with us, it’s all about the fun factor and I think at this moment in time the more fun it can be the better, so this will be our guiding light at first. Being able to spend time outdoors without having to worry about the COVID-19 restrictions will seem like a thing of the past. We might even just have an entire session on hugging each other!! Not forgetting our Running Fit courses and free meets, which will reopen once social distancing restrictions begin to ease. We also have our MSA Holiday Camps, which we miss so much. Just hearing the laughter and the screaming of excited children, not to mention seeing their smiles, is enough to make me smile. We have so much to offer and cannot wait to return.
Do you believe you will be able to use the free sessions in Ossett and South Kirkby (thanks to funding by Wakefield Council’s Active & Inspired Project) as a benchmark for rolling out your post-lockdown offers?
Paula: Absolutely! These will be the first sessions we resume, but we’re keen that other organisations are aware of the full breadth of our offer. We’re excited to pick conversations back up with Wakefield-based organisations and charities around our services for early years, after school, holiday camps, young people and adults, be that from running groups, boxercise sessions or Walking to Wellness.
Andy: Absolutely! They will be the first sessions to be delivered when we start back and I for one cannot wait. The difficulty with benchmarking our programmes is that they are entirely unique. We haven’t delivered a duplicated programme as yet. Ossett and South Kirkby are a perfect example. Both were funded with the same outcomes, but we delivered them differently. In Ossett they were delivered with children and adults together, whereas in South Kirkby the adults and children [sessions] were delivered separately. We recognised that a different approach in South Kirkby was needed and therefore adapted a different delivery mechanism. Our adaptability and fluid approach to our programmes allows us to continually assess our methods in order to maximise our delivery and benefit for the end user. We are always seeking new challenges and ways to improve the physical and mental health and well-being of others. If any organisations are interested in our services or would like to hear more about what we do or can do, please get in touch.