We interviewed Gil Threadgould, Deputy Manager and Assistant Coordinator of the Community, Alternatives Team (CAT) about what they’re doing to help people get active and get fit.
Gil, how would you describe what the CAT team does?
The Community Alternatives Team (CAT) provides community based Mental Health Day Services with recovery, social inclusion and group-based peer-support at the heart of its practice, which basically means we provide opportunities out in the community for people with mental health support needs to meet up, socialise, make friends and take part in various activities including sport and leisure. We also help people set up and run groups based on peoples interests, localities or other cultural identities (such as women, young people etc.) There used to be a part in the Leeds City Council’s Aims about “ensuring that all the citizens of Leeds can fully join in the social, cultural, political and economic life of our city” – and that’s definitely what we do. A lot of people have “nowhere to go, nothing to do and no-one to talk to”; we address all of those in a safe, fun and friendly way.
It’s ‘Get ready and get active’ week, what does your team do in the community to support people wanting to be fitter?
We have eight regular weekly groups and other opportunities for people to take part in activities such as sessions in local gyms; a pool group at the Elbow Rooms; a golfing group; a running group; badminton/gym & swim and various walking groups. As well as running our own groups, we also support people into using their local gyms, or even link people up who want to try more unusual pursuits such as paintballing or kickboxing. We offer short subsidised “give it a try” sessions such as the expert tuition salsasize classes.
Making the change towards a fitter and healthier lifestyle is sometimes hard to do. Why do you think that is?
A lot of people just don’t want to do it on their own. Joining a local group or a gym can be daunting for anyone, but with our activities they’ll be introduced to workers and other members and have personal follow up support to regularly encourage and motivate them. We’ve also held mental-health awareness sessions for Leisure Centre workers – to make them more welcoming and service-user friendly.
What benefits have you seen from people joining in with fitness activities?
It can be very general, such as giving a structure to people’s week, or making friends. We’ve had a lot of people who have lost weight (often gained as a side-effect of medication). None of our activities are competitive (apart from maybe a fun tournament or two) – they’re all done for the fun of it and a chance to get to meet other people.
Have you any real life stories where you know it’s made a difference?
Absolutely – some members of the Walking group are now leading their own walks for people, and have even been on holiday together – they’ve made some very deep friendships. Not all our activities are “workouts”; we’ve a group called “Natural World” that takes people to particularly beautiful/relaxing local places for guided walks which people have benefitted a lot from.
Are some activities more popular than others, and if so, what are they?
Yes – for example football really is a universal language! Our football group (which is now coached by Leeds United coaches) is ideal for people whose first language is not English. They get playing, and through that they get to know each other and feel part of a team. They’ve also been able to take part in local and even national tournaments. The pool group at the Elbow Rooms is also an ideal opportunity to get together and have a bit of a chat with someone you don’t know very well, while having a fun game of pool. People can have an idea of “support groups” involving people sitting in a circle staring at each other – this is much more fun than that.
How easy (or difficult) is it to get started for someone interested in becoming more active?
We try our best to make it easy for people – they can “self-refer” by telephone if they consider themselves to have a mental health support need (not necessarily a diagnosis), and are willing to explore opportunities to improve their wellbeing and reduce social isolation (loneliness). We will then meet up with them and together draw up a support plan including some groups/activities to try.
What support can you offer?
We offer a period of close support introducing people into groups and activities, and then regular reviews to see how people are doing. We will also support people to develop their skills and abilities – both sporting and socially, sometimes as a direct route into volunteering or employment (even as a football referee!).
Our thanks to Gil for sharing what the CAT team does. If you want to get in contact with the team, please call (0113) 378 2301