“The whole point is that we’re needs driven, we just do what people ask,” says Debra Forth, Executive Director of Live Well North East.
Since 2018, Live Well North East has been providing a variety of vital services to people of all ages in the local community of Sacriston, County Durham. Focused on creating better health and wellbeing, the huge range of activities provided 7 days a week have become essential to local people. “When we do our community surveys, mental health, physical health and activities for young people are some of the biggest needs,” Forth says. “There’s a lot of social isolation, unemployment, health deprivation – some really challenging things going on locally.”
What initially started as some fitness sessions provided for the community by Forth as an individual soon grew as the clear need for more activities did. “I started with one fitness class a week and that grew,” she says. “Then I started running some Relax Kids sessions that focuses on techniques for relaxation, mindfulness and stress management to provide good mental health, self-esteem and emotional resilience. The more I did, the more need I saw, with people really getting the benefits.”
A social enterprise and CIC was born and soon a vast range of services and activities were being provided. This now includes: boxing classes, holiday clubs for children, after school clubs, groups and classes for children and young people with additional needs, wellbeing enriching programmes for adults, yoga, mindfulness and lots more. “It’s about providing services for the community that they can access really easily,” says Forth. “Abolishing any sort of wait times, or the need for a referral, that you sometimes experience when you go through primary services. We wanted to make something that removes barriers, so nobody had to feel like they were jumping through hoops because sometimes it’s hard enough just to walk through the door.”
The response and impact on the community has been notable. With 100% of users rating the services excellent and physical and mental wellbeing being reported as being considerably better by the community members who use their services. “It’s about providing activities that will help all ages so that the community as a whole is much healthier,” says Forth. “If people are doing things every day that make them feel good, then that has a knock-on effect on everything. Families become stronger, healthier and happier, local businesses thrive and the village itself becomes a better environment to live in.”
One of the organisation’s most active fitness instructors initially came in to use the services as an anxious and struggling member of the public. “It took him weeks and weeks to build up the confidence to come to a class,” says Forth. “When he did he went straight to the back and had his head down the whole time but he loved the class and he was really passionate about wanting to share that with others because his mental health was so much better. We managed to pay for his qualification and supported him and now he’s absolutely thriving and he runs half of our fitness classes. He’s an absolutely amazing ambassador for exercise and mental health.”
Such is the success of the organisation with its jam-packed activities schedule, that Forth applied to the Leading the Way programme to look at managing future plans. “We will continue to grow and develop and we need to be able to expand because of the needs of the community,” she says. “It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to take part in the Leading the Way programme, so that we can learn how we take those next steps.”
By providing such a huge range of activities and services, Live Well North East has become a vital community hub that is greatly relied upon by people of all generations. “Because we provide all of those different things people can get what we often call a big wellbeing cuddle,” says Forth. “Because they come to somewhere that they can trust.”