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Neil Jones, Partnership Manager of Active Leeds at Leeds City Council talks to Mindful Employer Network Coordinator Leigh Staunton about the importance of physical activity in terms of boosting wellbeing and why Leeds employers should get involved in the new Active Workplaces Network

1) Tell us a bit about you and why this work is important to you.

Living in Leeds has been a great experience for me and my family, with so many great parks and opportunities to get outside and be active. I enjoy running in the fells and moors, and play football with other Dads on a Monday evening – it’s a good way to de-stress.
I am partnerships manager at Active Leeds and have been for a good few years – I have worked in the physical activity and wellbeing space for over 15 years, and have seen this area grow. I wholeheartedly welcome organisations prioritising the wellbeing of their people, it’s so important.

2) What is Active Workplaces and how did it come about?

Active Workplaces is the name for the service and support package that Active Leeds provides to the city. It has two distinct sides:
One – A network to share and discuss current insights and research around supporting and fostering more active workforces – taking the burden off businesses and providing practical help and support.
Two – Active Leeds supports a range of organisations within this field and offers consultancy and project support to assist businesses with the development of projects, programmes and interventions that can support improved mental and physical health.
It came about following our city-wide conversations about physical activity in 2019, which were delivered by Active Leeds and underpinned by Leeds Beckett University research. At this point we held an open conversation with residents and workers about what inhibits them from being active, and how we could work together to co-design solutions to encourage the whole city to move more every day.
Our findings really demonstrated that we needed to work at a city level to improve people’s ‘Connectivity’ to what is available, support residents and workers to incrementally improve feelings of ‘Capability’ to take that first step to become active, and lastly to increase the ‘Capacity’ of the local physical activity offer. We found, interestingly, that people knew that they should be more active but didn’t know how or when to start. Also, personal motivation is not enough, and we set about looking at a range of support that could encourage residents and workers to be more active.

3) Tell our members about the connection between physical health and mental wellbeing and outline your top tips for employers on encouraging staff to be more active (including remote/hybrid workers)

The connection between ‘movement’ and feelings of improved mental health are well documented by Public Health England, NICE and the World health Organisation. We have found in Leeds that even very short bouts of physical activity (Exercise Snacking) can have a significant positive cognitive effect on people’s mental health. Through our approaches with organisations in the city, we have seen that building in short periods of physical activity like walking meetings, active travel or group physical activity, that workers have reported improved feelings of control, perspective and has guarded against bouts of low mood and has improved resilience in the workplace.

Here’s some top tips:

• Create opportunities for staff to be active together – make it fun and social
• Prioritise movement and don’t sit to long
• Build physical activity breaks into your day – Block out the time
• Create a culture where physical activity is encouraged and is the social norm
• Encourage and champion active travel

4) Tell us about the Active Workplaces Network. How can local employers get involved and what are the benefits of joining?

Active Leeds – Leeds City Council has been spearheading the work around ‘Physical Activity’ in the city and contributing significantly to the City Plan, as we look at how the city will look and feel in years to come. We have amassed a great deal of insight, research, and evaluation data from our approaches that we wanted to share this in a simple forum. Allowing it to be shared and talk about how it could be applied and used in the workplace. Secondly, we have been working with employers to develop a range of practical co-produced projects in all kinds of industries, so we wanted to bring people together to share best practice, current thinking and learning.

Our next event will be on the 20th April at CITU Head Office – Leeds Dock at 9.30 – 11am.

5) Share some case studies/good news with us about positive action from local employers who have become Active Workplaces.

John Lewis has supported their delivery drivers into better health through the implementation of physical activity interventions based around the working day. John Lewis has invested a lot of time and energy into supporting partners within the business. Active Leeds has supported to design and implement a range of projects over the last few years. Recently at their Driver’s day, staff were encouraged to take part in a range of activities, given the opportunity to have a health coaching session and signposted into local physical activity opportunities like Walking Football, Swimming and Cycling.

Book your free place at the next Active Workplaces event on 20th April