Existing WEA learners will become the founding members of a new network of activity and support which plans to improve health and reduce isolation. This has been made possible thanks to a successful bid to the Big Lottery Fund worth £488,000 to continue the WEA’s pioneering Community Health Education in Stoke-on-Trent (CHEST) programme over five years.
The project has already drawn hundreds of Stoke residents into exercise for the first time. Many come through referrals from the NHS or attend courses because they want to exercise but find gyms hard to access for a variety of reasons. Over the years, participants have learned about a variety of healthy lifestyle topics such as how to recognise symptoms of diabetes and stroke and cut down on ‘hidden’ sugars. Many have ventured into other areas such as making films, using the internet for the first time or lobbying their MPs on issues of importance.
The next phase of the project has been designed through extensive consultation with groups and will build on the first three years to have a much wider impact on the city’s health and resilience in tough economic times. New courses will start in at least fifteen community venues from January.
Project manager, Clare White, said: "We are excited and grateful to the Big Lottery for this amazing opportunity and we'd like to thank all our learners and friends of the project for their support and help in developing the bid. Our learners and the team worked really hard over the last three years and many individuals have made incredible transformations to their own health and that of their families. We will be launching the next phase of the project with a celebration in January and invite everyone who wants to come along or get involved to get in touch."
Tutor Samantha Wright talk about one of the longest-running CHEST groups: “The Gurdwara Temple group is a friendly and welcoming mixed group of mostly retired ladies and men from different communities. As an older group the focus has been on gradual health improvements utilising more gentle exercises, but they are a fantastic group and willing to try anything - they have even enjoyed Boxersize!”
The CHEST project is designed to reduce health inequalities, which lead to people in the city dying earlier or experiencing poorer health than in other places.
In its first three years the project engaged over 2,000 residents of Stoke-on-Trent in exercise and learning. The majority of participants demonstrate at least one health improvement (weight, waist or blood pressure) in each course and nearly all successfully complete three learning outcomes in each course.
Working closely with partners from a range of sectors in the city, the project will:
- improve the health of participants through structured physical exercise in accessible community venues
- improve health literacy (eg reading, writing and computer skills)
- reduce social isolation and improve the resilience and wellbeing of the wider communities of Stoke-on-Trent.
Videos of the CHEST project are at www.westmidlands.wea.org.uk.