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#DoingOurBit - Julie Davis

We talk to the deputy COO of the Clinical Research Network West Midlands and founder of the free, online fitness platform for NHS and social care staff #DoingOurBit.

Q. How did you launch #DoingOurBit?

We had been running an amazing physical activity programme in our organisation prior to lockdown and the feedback was really encouraging. We had members of staff who wouldn't normally have time to be more active with busy family commitments taking their first plunge into fitness, others getting their fitness mojo back with a new type of workout and some who could run a marathon at the weekend if they wanted to enjoying exercising with their colleagues. In addition, our sickness rates were falling especially in the areas of musculoskeletal issues and mental health. We knew what we were doing was having an impact but then lockdown hit. Suddenly we were unable to continue. My husband who is a personal trainer in his spare time, spent 11 weeks doing free live online sessions to keep our staff motivated. This became more unsustainable the longer lockdown went on, and with a burnt out workforce, we knew we needed to up our game. The initial idea was for me to train to be a PT and deliver more sessions, but after a few conversations with experts in the fitness industry, #DoingOurBit was born.

Q. Why is #DoingOurBit needed?

During the pandemic, there were a lot of organisations giving NHS staff access to online programmes for a few weeks or months. But these turned into costly initiatives for staff when the free trial was over. The idea was to launch a platform that was free and accessible to all, create something that could be seen as a physical activity legacy from the pandemic and to keep up the health journey many people started during lockdown. The niche part of #DoingOurBit is that it is a gift to the NHS and social care workers. The growing platform is free for all those who use it, and it will be free forever. Many healthy lifestyle initiatives and interventions for NHS and social care staff are around weight management; we wanted #DOB to be around health promotion and encourage and empower people proactively to lead healthier lives.

Q. How did you get the founding partners involved?

I had done my PT training with James Luscombe, founder and owner of Study Active, and sought his advice about possible content and contributors. James recognised that alongside any PT/instructor contributions, a degree of regulation, standards setting and verification would be needed. He introduced me to Active IQ and after an initial call to discuss the idea, all were agreed the concept had great potential. Active IQ’s PR company, Action Group, was aware of fibodo’s work and asked if they could help create a platform. All the partners share a willingness, generosity of spirit and commitment to help the NHS. Together, they worked round the clock to bring #DoingOurBit to life. Study Active and Action Group helped to rally PTs and instructors to submit workouts, the Active IQ external verifying team checked every session to ensure it was safe and clear and fibodo created the platform and uploaded the workouts. Action Group provided project management and publicity support to keep the project progressing and growing. All the while, I worked hard to launch and progress with NHS wellbeing leads which led to word spreading quickly. #DoingOurBit went live on June 15, 2020 – just six weeks after I initially spoke to James. So far, 130 NHS and social care organisations with a reach of 750,000 staff have signed up to the platform. The partners continue to meet once a month to help steer #DoingOurBit and in September 2022, David Monkhouse, director of Leisure-Net Solutions, joined us to lend his expertise to the initiative.

Q. How many people are engaging with the platform?

We currently have 28,000 users with numbers rising now the new platform is up and running. So far this year, we’ve had 497 full video views and 299 unique users. The most popular sessions are low impact aerobics, yoga/Pilates, dance workouts and HIIT workouts.

Q. At what stage of the fitness journey are most participants?

There is a real mix of people who are taking part in sessions. One organisation said they

have people literally doing their first ever workouts since school on the system. We also have seasoned runners who have completed many full and half marathons reporting back how much they find the yoga and Pilates sessions help them. The thinking behind #DOB is that there should be something there for everyone, no matter where they are on their fitness journey. It’s always encouraging to hear how active people have increased their fitness or activity levels by completing sessions on the platform, but it is so inspiring to hear from those who are taking their first steps towards a healthier and more active lifestyle: it’s wonderful knowing that #DOB has played a part in that.

Q. Tell us about the platform’s new mental wellbeing hub.

We’ve added this to the platform over the last few weeks because so many people had asked us to expand on the resources we were providing in this area. The idea behind the mental wellbeing hub in its current format came from a paramedic who provided some ideas on how we could turn #DOB into a resource they could signpost their staff after they had been out to a traumatic call. They wanted alternatives to go alongside the resources offered by their Trust, so people who may not routinely access employee assistance programmes had somewhere else to go and look for information from high quality sources, all in one place. #DOB is for all NHS and social care staff, therefore where we can, we want to ensure we act on feedback like this and give the employees access to the initiative they want it to be.

Q. How has the platform evolved?

#DoingOurBit has evolved in response to demand from NHS wellbeing leads and users of the platform. The steering group is also open to suggestions from PTs and instructors with a specific skill set to contribute their sessions. As a result, since launching with 40 workouts from 27 PTs, #DOB has extended its offering to include:

  • Chair-based exercise
  • Mindfulness and hypnotherapy sessions
  • Dance sessions
  • Pre and post-natal workouts

We are also adding workouts delivered by NHS trainers to really underpin our commitment to being for the NHS by being provided by the NHS. Following suggestions from the West Midlands Ambulance NHS trust, we developed the mental wellbeing hub to offer advice, guidance and signposting alongside workouts could help people manage better. The next two areas to evolve are creating an app so people can access #DOB even more easily and setting up some sessions for NHS staff in bricks and mortar facilities so staff can enjoy a class, gym session or swim. Finally, we are in the process of inviting NHS employees to step up to be #DOB Champions, which will see them train to encourage their colleagues to be more active.

Q. How will the new website help futureproof the platform?

The new website has more sections and more sessions. The navigation of the site is more intuitive and has a number of entry points for people who, once engaged on the platform, have several ‘journey’ options to access its many aspects. The new website framework has been developed with scalability in mind, enabling us to extend and expand our offering in the coming months and years. It has been built with the capability to link to an app and leisure centres so we can broaden its reach and accessibility. The original platform was very clearly a product of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic: the new platform is more sophisticated in appearance bringing it into line with other online fitness portals as a very viable and desirable fitness option for NHS staff. The platform offers the opportunity for group exercise instructors and personal trainers to demonstrate their professionalism to NHS workers and to support them to improve their wellbeing. This has to place the value of activity and moving more higher up these employees’ agendas and therefore consider the value for their patients. The platform can accommodate all NHS trusts and employees, providing access to free content for hundreds of thousands of employees.

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