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Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Girls Can

Active Together has developed a full women’s health offer through our local programme LLR Girls Can (Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Girls Can). This includes a web page with accessible information related to different phases of life (menstrual health, pregnancy, pelvic health, and menopause, plus information around cancers, sexual health and mental health), as well as an Active Menopause offer including free resources and a programme of events, delivered in collaboration with our local authority colleagues. Our recent grant, LLR Girls Can in the Community, has supported 21 projects across LLR, providing increased opportunities for physical activity to approximately 930 women and girls.

The challenge

There are many challenges to tackling health inequalities and increasing access to physical activity within place. Each district / borough of LLR will have different priorities, people and places that will determine their own individual challenges. There are however, a number of common and shared challenges that we strive to overcome.

Districts and boroughs in LLR are now moving towards a ‘tackling inequalities’ model which means funding and subsequent programs will focuses on targeting individuals from ethnic diverse communities (EDC), lower socio-economic groups (LSEG), and those living with long-term health conditions. There is a lack of access to opportunities for those in low-socio economic groups. Whilst of course women and girls fall within these groups, there is no longer a specific focus on the cohort which means some women who do not fall explicitly into these groups may not receive the support they still deserve. 

Supporting our least active women and girls to get active means achieving true behaviour change, something we cannot achieve without understanding the lived experience and barriers such as fear of judgement, confidence, lack of motivation and juggling life.

There is a lack of co-designed programmes, which results in expecting women to turn up to programmes that have not involved any prior consultation and then wondering why there is no one there!

Other challenges include: 

  • Religious considerations such as dress, language barriers, instructor, type of activity, music, and venue all need to be considered for different communities. 
  • Gym environments require work to be done to increase confidence around accessing gym spaces. 
  • Busting myths around how physical activity can be beneficial at all stages of life (deal with period pains, during pregnancy, reduce menopausal symptoms etc). 
  • There is a lack of join up of services i.e. how can we work with violence reduction agencies to use physical activity as the vehicle for improved physical and mental wellbeing. 
  • A lack of time is often seen as a barrier, which requires increasing knowledge of ‘what counts’ and how much physical activity women should be doing.

The solution

  • Increased funding to local districts to deliver specifically on the women and girls agenda, under the new priority groups (EDC, LTHC, LSEG) and / or to appoint a women and girls lead officer based out in district / Active Partnership teams.
  • Providing spaces that are safe, suitable, self-affirming and social. Utilising trusted women within the community to spread the messages, and going to where women already are in a community based approach. Influencing at all levels of the system including health care, and making sure women and girls are a priority group within local health and wellbeing plans. Utilising women and girls as specific leads within organisations, increasing volunteer capacity to lead sessions. Creating a sense of shared purpose – working towards the common goal of increasing female activity.

The impact

Using Sport England This Girl Can funding, we launched a LLR Girls Can in the Community small grants across Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, designed to support community groups to start a new or to sustain a physical activity programme for women and girls.

£9073 was invested into 21 different projects across seven areas of LLR. There are 930 expected participants benefiting from a new or sustained physical activity offer. Out of this, 19 groups (90 per cent) were directly supporting those with living with a long-term health condition and 12 groups (57  per cent) were directly supporting those from EDC. 16 groups (76  per cent) were directly supporting those from LSEG. This is just one example of how grant funding can make a huge difference to local communities.

This funding also helped to pay for the My Active Menopause sessions. The offer was a two-week programme (two sessions over two weeks) to introduce women to physical activity for the management of their symptoms. Each session lasted for two hours. Across the four events, 55 women attended, with nearly half living with one or more long-term health conditions. Colleagues from LLR Mind, Social Prescribing and Local Area Coordination teams, Age UK, Talking Therapies, Primary Care Networks and local leisure centres attended to introduce their local support offer. This gave the women an opportunity to hear from passionate professionals regarding programmes that demonstrate longevity and advocacy for women's health. Physical activity included an hour of menopause yoga and a menopause strength and resistance session, led by specialist menopause instructors. Our sessions concluded with an open and honest sharing of lived experiences through a Q&A. As a result, four new menopause offers have been developed across Leicestershire: 12 week ‘In2Gym programme’ (Active Hinckley and Bosworth), Menopause Wellbeing Café (Loughborough Wellbeing Centre and Active Charnwood) ‘Menopause 101’ Course’ (Active Harborough) and an ‘Active Menopause 12 week programme’ (North West Leicester Health and Wellbeing). There continues to be an increasing energy around developing menopause support across Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

We also have evaluation reports returned from each group that received funding, the consensus was:

  • More opportunities for women to be active 
  • Increased mental health 
  • Better retention of participants who were previously inactive 
  • Organisational / workforce support

How is the new approach being sustained?

Social prescribing model – If we base our programs on the wider principles of social prescribing, i.e. identifying what is meaningful to the individual, then it is inherently sustainable. Sustainability was a core component of the grant – in order to successfully receive funding, participants had to demonstrate how their project was sustainable beyond the short-term investment of the small grants. 

Sustainability as a core component of My Active Menopause – our two-week programme aimed to introduce women to physical activity for the management of their symptoms, and then the local authority teams then developed their own sustainable offers within their communities, meaning four areas now have a sustainable menopause offers.

Creating resources – At Active Together we firstly developed multiple new resources including:

  • ‘Active Menopause’ webpage covering FAQs, how physical activity can help to manage symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, diet, prescribed and non-prescribed treatments, local physical activity opportunities and web links to useful resources. 
  • We also created a physical activity guidelines flyer for perimenopausal and menopausal women, a local version of the CMO guidelines. 
  • We also created a ‘Your Guide to an Active Menopause’, a 24 page booklet covering aerobic, strength & resistance, flexibility, impact, desk-based, functional and pelvic floor exercises. It explains what these are, how to do it, how much to do, top tips related to common symptoms, instructions for completing various exercises with images and useful links. All resources were written in collaboration with a women’s health specialist. 
  • We also then have a ‘LLR Girls Can’ webpage which is our local response to the national This Girl Can campaign, which seeks to support all women to move more regardless of age, background, size, ability etc. This page acts as a ‘women’s health’ page, directing women to information at all stages of life (menstrual health, pregnancy, pelvic health, menopause, sexual health, mental health and cancers.) The page includes top tips to get started whilst overcoming nerves and juggling life, as well as links to local physical activity opportunities. 
  • We also distributed t-shirts, medals, shoe laces and water bottles branded with ‘LLR Girls Can’ which helped to develop a community spirt of local female activity. 

I mention these resources because after consultation with local women they told us that informative and accessible resources to refer back to were key to getting started with or sustaining physical activity. 

Lessons learned

  • Place based working is key to sustained participation – this idea of ‘going where women already are’ i.e LLR Girls Can in the Community.
  • What is meaningful – finding out what is meaningful to the individual is time well spent as you are far more likely to encourage true and sustained behaviour change.
  • Converting the outcomes of a program into their language – whoever ‘their’ might be i.e. GPs, workplace, the women themselves. Marketing and communications messages must be translated differently to different audiences (weight loss, me time, mental health, reduced days lost to sickness, increased staff retention…).
  • Holistic offers are important, not ignoring the wider determinants of health – mental health, GPs, HRT, nutrition, sleep, family, work… 
  • Lack of access to opportunities for those in low-socio economic groups.
  • Lack of join up of services i.e. how can we work with violence reduction agencies to use physical activity as the vehicle for improved physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Lack of time seen as a barrier – increasing knowledge of ‘what counts’.
  • As above, knowledge and understanding of what counts as physical activity and how much females should be doing.