Sport For Confidence’s Stay Connected programme celebrates an extension and the delivery of more than 1,000 remote physical activity sessions to vulnerable adults during lockdown. 

Just three months after the launch of the Stay Connected programme, designed to maintain contact and encourage physical activity levels amongst marginalised groups and vulnerable adults across Essex during lockdown, Sport For Confidence is celebrating the delivery of more than 1,000 digital activity sessions and the delivery of more than 3,100 remote, person-to-person interventions.

The programme has been so successful, Essex County Council has ring fenced funding to extend the provision for a further three months, supporting those most in need until the end of September 2020.

When the threat of COVID-19 forced everyone to retreat into their homes with a central government directive to ‘stay home, stay safe, save lives’, the population faced weeks of social isolation and inactivity. For many, especially those with physical and mental health issues, this presented potentially life-threatening challenges.

Sport for Confidence traditionally delivers inclusive sport and physical activity sessions, led by occupational therapists working alongside sports coaches, in mainstream leisure facilities for those who face barriers to participation. When leisure centres were forced to close their doors at the end of March, Sport For Confidence was no longer able to deliver its vital services, potentially leaving hundreds of clients unsupported until further notice. 

Lyndsey Barrett, founder at Sport for Confidence and senior occupational therapist, explains: “When leisure centres closed we faced weeks of no contact with clients. From the darkest depths of adversity, it is amazing what can emerge. Within a few days of shut down I had contacted Essex County Council via the Essex Welfare Service with a detailed proposal to launch a remote support programme to provide clients and other identified vulnerable adults across the county with a valuable link to professional support through lockdown. Fortunately, Essex County Council was in full support of the idea and proved the funding needed to implement the Stay Connected programme.”

By the beginning of April, Sport For Confidence had re-deployed its entire staff team of occupational therapists and sports coaches to deliver a specialist ‘at home’ service, providing a remote, person-centred support service to thousands of vulnerable adults in Essex.

Between April 4 and June 30, our team of eight occupational therapists have conducted more than 3,100 telephone consultations representing 876 individual cases. Calls have provided personalised advice aligned to that recommended by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists relating to social distancing and the occupational disruption experienced during this time. Topics discussed have included: how to establish a daily routine; the importance of self-care, healthy eating, rest and physical activity; goal setting and alternative ways to engage with family, friends and neighbours.

In addition, the team of Sport for Confidence occupational therapists and sports coaches has delivered more than 1,000 two-way, digital, physical activity sessions. Some sessions have been delivered direct to individuals reflecting bespoke abilities and activity preferences, whilst others have encouraged multiple participants to join group sessions via a schedule of weekly Zoom sessions, encouraging interaction and maintaining a sense of community.

Lyndsey adds: “Stay Connected has enabled us to maintain professional contact with individuals who could otherwise really struggle with the negative effects of imposed isolation. Keeping clients active and connected by remote means is not ideal but it has certainly provided a lifeline to many and has enabled us to continue to deliver much needed services until we are able to return to our traditional delivery methods.”

The Stay Connected programme has ring fenced funding until the end of September 2020. This time, it is hoped leisure centres will be re-opened and Sport for Confidence will have returned to its priority face to face delivery service applying the necessary adjustments to ensure safe practice whilst COVID-19 remains a threat.

Jess Stewart, Head of Strategic Policy and Commissioning at Essex County Council, adds: “We are delighted with the progress of the Stay Connected service – it’s a great example of innovation which was mobilised very quickly to support those who may be struggling with the impact of Coronavirus. Feedback has been really positive.”

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