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Holistic Health was designed to enable local community-based organisations, such as community centres, charities and youth work centres, to more effectively address the health and wellbeing needs of their members/participants.
This was achieved through the facilitated delivery of a codesigned 12-week physical activity, mental health and nutrition program. The intervention was a pilot project which tested a new participatory method of community sports and health delivery and took place in the first half of 2022.
Project beneficiaries were primarily from groups who experienced health inequalities and/or socioeconomic barriers, including disabled and older people, individuals from the BAME community, carers and unemployed persons.
Holistic Health has been found to have resulted in several positive outcomes both in relation to the health/wellbeing of project participants and to the capability and capacity of host organisation. The pilot project received considerable media coverage and also attracted attention from County Durham MP Richard Holden.
• The Holistic Health pilot worked with a total of 68 service users distributed
across six ‘host’ organisations.
• There was an even division between female and male genders, 28% of
participants were disabled, 80% of referrals were white British and 20% were
Asian or Asian British.
• Participants were aged between 7-82 years old, with the average age 56 years.
• Fourteen ‘host’ organisations were originally engaged in the programme,
however, not all were able to engage throughout the pilot project.
• Participants recorded a 28% improvement in the average level of physical activity per week
• Service users reported an 18% improvement in their mental health
• Participants evidenced improvements in healthy eating patterns by an average
• There was synergy between expectation and outcome, with service users
reporting that the project addressed the very issues which were creating
barriers for them.
• Holistic Health resulted in stronger and more engaging ‘host’ organisations, with
those involved reporting they were more attractive to their local communities
and potential new members/participants.
• Host organisations also reported a reduction in barriers associated with delivery of health and wellbeing programmes.
The Holistic Health project has been a successful trial of a new methodology to expand participation in health and wellbeing related activities, to work in partnership with local organisations, improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.
There has been a successful experience with co-production and the objectives
identified by participants at the outset were found to be achieved.
Holistic Health presents a novel and more participatory approach to health and wellbeing than standard offers.
It is also recognised by national policy that it is only with meaningful service user participation that the necessary shifts can happen in terms of addressing health inequalities and social mobility. This is particularly relevant as Government, DCMS and Sport England look to improve how they work with partner organisations through
‘Levelling Up’ and ‘Social Prescribing’ agendas.
There is the potential that Holistic Health can provide such a model and one that can be packaged and delivered outside of the North East region.
Every community within the UK places health, wellbeing and happiness at its centre. Health promotion becomes proactive rather than reactive. Communities themselves take ownership of ill health and develop their own innovative solutions which directly address local challenges. The NHS’s great expertise is used only to treat acute disease and emergency trauma. Health support includes a wide range of holistic services – all designed around the whole person, rather than the specific illness.
“It’s definitely the day I look forward to most,” he says. “I just wish it was more often.”
Bill goes on to explain that his health “isn’t too good”. Heart problems have left him on the waiting list for two new valves, and he’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s. Due to the need to isolate, he’s endured two lonely lockdown years, but at least for a precious few hours on Thursdays, he’s walking back to happiness.
“It’s made the world of difference – I’ve seen a massive improvement,” he declares over a coffee in the warmth of the rugby club bar, the flames of an artificial fire flickering by his side.
“The biggest thing is confidence to get moving again, and then to come in here and have a bit of crack is wonderful. Everyone makes you feel so welcome – I’m glad I decided to give it a go.”
“As soon as I heard about the SportWorks trial, I applied to be part of it because I think it’s a really interesting project. What really appealed was combining the physical exercise with the social side and the chats about mental health and nutrition,” says Jim.
“When the walking rugby group started, we had people struggling with all kinds of medical conditions, who were moving quite slowly and falling over a lot. “But by encouraging them to work in small groups, passing the ball, and walking, they’ve improved their movement, kicking, and hand-eye co- ordination. “On top of all that, the social interaction has definitely improved their mental health. People comment all the time about how it’s made them happier, and how much they look forward to coming every week.”