Active Wellbeing in colleges embracing a ‘new normal’

ColegauCymru Sport Project Manager Rob Baynham looks at how colleges have risen to the challenge that has faced them during the Covid pandemic to embrace a ‘new normal’ and to create opportunities for active wellbeing. 

The launch of ColegauCymru’s Active Wellbeing Strategy in February 2020 could not have come at a better time. A new strategic direction for further education (FE) colleges, making the connection between physical activity and wellbeing with a few months to prepare for delivery from September 2020. A welcome new development with the vision of Active Colleges, Active Lives and Active Wales, aiming to enhance the emotional, physical and social wellbeing of learners. 

What happened next goes without saying, and we now find ourselves facing a ‘new normal’, with colleges returning at a time of considerable uncertainty. In the current climate, a strategy that promotes physical activity for the less active, especially those groups disengaged with exercise, would seem at best difficult to deliver and impossible in some circumstances.

How can we change the way we deliver physical activity in colleges to create a “better normal” and improve the wellbeing of young people in the process?

Rising to the challenge 
March saw FE colleges across Wales physically close their doors to both learners and staff. But activity didn’t stop there. Colleges were committed to continuity of learning as much as was possible, with staff working tirelessly to support learners as they adapted to the newly imposed circumstances. Across the sector, colleges continued to engage online with student-led challenges and fitness sessions. New digital platforms, blended learning approaches and the innovative use of social media saw both learners and staff alike benefitting from regular physical activity and continued interaction with their peers. 

Learning from lockdown

How does this situation and learning create new opportunity?

Could it be we have found that using social media and online platforms works really well for some of this age group, that actually they prefer the message coming through their mobile or over a Zoom video? 

There were also positive signs in relation to engagement with harder to reach groups and less active learners. Is a lack of confidence in group activity and engagement overcome when the individuals can participate from their living room or in safe educational “bubbles” with their friends?

The term barrier is often used in the world of health and sport. Factors that can influence learners becoming disengaged with activity include income, location, culture, facilities and free time. Some of these barriers are naturally removed using online platforms, it could be argued that low cost, local, outdoor activity (another feature of lockdown) also provides a similar solution.

Looking forward 

Can we use technology and lessons learned to develop more activity and positive exercise habits while not forgetting the social and emotional benefits of personal interaction and group activity?

Colleges are embracing many of these concepts in delivering physical activity and engaging with learners, what is less clear, however, is how this situation impacts on social and emotional wellbeing. There is also a need for further research and a better understanding of the connection between different modes of activity and wider wellbeing. 

Continue the conversation 
As we adapt and embrace a new normal, it will be essential for us to learn from the lessons of lockdown. What are your experiences? We’d be keen to learn and share details with the wider community. Get in touch. 

Further Information 
ColegauCymru Active Wellbeing Strategy 2020 - 2025 

Rob Baynham, ColegauCymru Sport Project Co-ordinator 
Rob.Baynham@ColegauCymru.ac.uk 

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