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Looking back at Wirral’s We Are Undefeatable…

Starting a new project can be tough at any time, let alone during a global pandemic. But that didn’t stop Sonia Carty, project coordinator for Wirral’s We Are Undefeatable programme – launched in May 2020.

Nearly 18 months on, as the project came to a close earlier this month, we look back at the impact that Sonia and her team have had on Wirral residents.

Supported by 16 leading health and social care charities, We Are Undefeatable (WAU) aimed to inspire and support people living with health conditions to build physical activity into their lives, in a way that their conditions allowed, and to celebrate every victory - big or small.

One of 10 local authority initiatives to receive funding from Sport England, Wirral’s WAU project took off with a roaring start before the pandemic hit. Activities included workshops, exercise at home guides, coffee mornings, ‘Meet & Greet’ sessions and more.

Sonia Carty, the project’s coordinator, said: “We launched the project in May 2020 and quickly found that there were a lot of people who felt they could benefit from our support.

“But with lockdown and other restrictions in place, we had to adapt and completely transform our plans on how to deliver the programme.

“We moved from seeing people face-to-face, to keeping in touch with them by phone for long periods of time.”

And while, as many will remember, daily outdoor exercise was permitted under restrictions, WAU participants (many of whom were now ‘shielding’) were struggling physically, mentally and socially.

Despite these challenges, the overall impact of the Wirral WAU project has been very positive. Many clients reported noticeable improvements in their confidence levels and ability to better manage their long-term health condition (LTHC) after the benefits they experienced with certain activities.

One of the project’s participants, Hilary, said: “Having a chronic illness, I found I was losing confidence both mentally and physically in what I could do. As a Wirral resident I have watched for years the activities on the Marine Lake but never had the confidence to try anything.

“With trepidation I decided to join the We Are Undefeatable group sailing session at West Kirby Marine Lake. (Living) with brain fog, I wondered how I could remember everything I was told about how to sail the fun boat… Reassuringly we were told it was virtually unsinkable!

“What an opportunity! Did I enjoy it? Yes, once on the water my mind was taken away from everyday difficulties. The session lifted my spirits and my confidence has taken a boost.”

Clients also noticed improved physical and mental wellbeing such as sleeping better, improved symptoms of their health conditions, lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

Another WAU client, Susan, said of her experience: “I used to be really active until I got ill. My condition causes weakness in my muscles. I’ve also struggled with weight gain due to medication.

“Swimming with WAU helps me to move freely and supports my muscles so I can build up my strength. I need help getting in and out of the pool and my Mum joins me as support while I swim.

“When I am swimming, I feel a sense of freedom, relaxation and I feel like I’m doing something to help myself.”

One unexpected benefit of the changes was that closer relationships were developed with those taking part. Approximately 2,000 phone calls were made to participants by Sonia and her team of WAU ‘ambassadors’.

Sonia said: “WAU ambassadors were able to establish closer and more trusting relationships with those they were supporting – at a very challenging time.

“Now, we would consider this approach for similar projects - as opposed to arranging inductions in a leisure setting which may be too intimidating for some clients.”

Throughout the project, more than 140 people from across Wirral were supported, with ages ranging from 25-80. The group accessed activities varying from gym to swim to sailing, paddle boarding sessions and open water swimming.

As the project drew to a close, many of WAU’s clients shared their thanks and praise for the team.

WAU client, Keith, said: “We Are Undefeatable is an excellent project with a good back up system. They seem to have carefully recruited their volunteers. The title ‘Undefeatable’ is excellent and makes you carry on looking into how physical activity can improve your condition.

“My ambassador Sharon was very professional and approachable in all she did and really the type of person you want with you in a crisis. Thank you very much.”

So, what next for the We Are Undefeatable team?

Sonia said: “We are working on a bank of information showing what physical activity opportunities are available locally. We’ll look to share this with our client group soon.

“We also have a weight management project starting which many of our current clients will meet the criteria for!”

For more information about how to get active in Wirral, visit: https://www.wirral.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/health-wirral/health-wellbeing/move-more.