Following the announcement of the lockdown in March and the closure of leisure centres throughout the country, Sport For Confidence decided to re-deployed its entire staff team of occupational therapists and sports coaches to deliver a specialist ‘at home’ service to support thousands of vulnerable adults in Essex.

The initiative is called Stay Connected and it launched on 1 April, and is fully funded by Essex County Council. In addition to supporting the 2,500 Sport for Confidence clients, the service will closely align to the Essex Welfare Service, accepting referrals across the 14 Active Networks from learning disability and autism social work teams and Supported Living providers, widening the reach to a significant number of vulnerable adults across the county.

“Sport For Confidence is a social enterprise which places occupational therapists alongside sports coaches in mainstream leisure venues to deliver inclusive physical activity sessions for those who face barriers to participation’ explains Lyndsey Barrett, Senior Occupational Therapist and Founder of Sport For Confidence.

“When the leisure centres closed their doors, our principle concern was safeguarding our participants. Typically, participants include adults with learning disabilities, people living with dementia, poor mental health, physical disabilities and long term heath conditions. Whilst we fully support the government’s social-isolation strategy, we were also acutely aware of the negative impact this could have on such a vulnerable group that already face challenges to getting involved in physical activity. So, we immediately went about building a solution which would enable us to continue to offer a person-centred support solution despite the challenge of physical distancing.”

Stay Connected will offer each and every participant a weekly, highly personalised telephone support call from one of the eight Sport For Confidence occupational therapists. For Sport For Confidence participants, the call will take place during a time they would usually be attending a group at the leisure centre. This maintains a degree of familiarity and routine. Those referred via Essex County Council will agree a weekly time slot directly with a Sport For Confidence staff member.

Calls will give guidance aligned to that provided by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists relating to social distancing and the occupational disruption experienced during this time. Topics covered will include: 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.

Lyndsey adds: “Participants are allocated to an occupational therapist based on geography, so each of our eight occupational therapists will take responsibility for their own caseload. In addition, our team of five specialist sports coaches will support through the provision of highly personalised physical activity home workout videos to keep participants active.

The specialist telephone support service is backed up by the provision of information, advice, video workouts and signposting to other support services, posted on a dedicated Stay Connected page on the Sport For Confidence website, with selected materials also pushed out through Sport For Confidence social media channels.

Jess Stewart, Head of Commissioning at Essex County Council, says: “There are many members of our community who have the potential to really suffer as a result of being isolated. We identified a need to offer a specialist, professional service to help them through the next few weeks and months. Sport For Confidence has a team of allied health professionals and sports coaches ready and able to deliver exactly the service we need so I am very confident that, together, we will steer the most vulnerable in our society through these unprecedented times.”

Stay Connected has capacity to support thousands of vulnerable individuals across Essex with funding secured at least until the end of June. At this point funding will be reviewed based on the wider COVID-19 situation. The Sport For Confidence team will not offer any medical advice relating to the coronavirus. For information relating to this, participants will be directed to call 111.

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