Members of a women’s group in New Wortley have been enjoying warm hydro pool sessions in a bid to improve their confidence, mobility and strength.
The sessions have been supported by British Triathlon and have seen members of the women’s group at New Wortley Community Centre taking part in a variety of pool-based exercises.
New Wortley is one of 17 priority areas in England, outlined in the Triathlon England strategy The Big Active, where the focus is on improving the fitness and health of local residents.
Leeds Swim Bike Run Activator, Fiona Hoare, who is jointly funded between British Triathlon and the local authority’s Active Leeds, has been working with New Wortley Community Centre and the women’s group for several years.
“The women told me they wanted to start swimming,” Fiona said. “However, they were cautious about their ability levels and health conditions, and some women had religious beliefs which restricted opportunities for swimming in public spaces. For many, the cooler water of a regular swimming pool aggravated their conditions, which is why I explored the possibility of them accessing the warmer hydro pool at a quiet time.”
To address the challenges, Fiona worked with Active Leeds staff at Armley Leisure Centre to gain exclusive access to the hydro pool. Linking with the Active Leeds Health Referral team, who were able to offer the exclusive programme at a reduced rate of £3. Fiona then worked with colleagues to apply for Active Leeds Community Chest funding to block book the sessions for 6 weeks and support women who could not afford the weekly fee.
When the sessions started, Fiona noticed a wide range of mental and physical health improvements in a short period of time. She said: “Their balance increased, their coordination improved, as did their spatial awareness. In fact, the warm water allowed the women to relax. Some were in so much pain and had so much stress I don’t think they’d experienced anything other than that, but after their first session in the hydro pool, they all went home exhausted and just slept which was amazing.
“I think they thought falling asleep after the session was wrong or bad and I said no, actually that’s the most amazing outcome because your body has finally relaxed and let go of the stress it was under.”
One of the participants, Esther, said: “I enjoyed the hydro pool sessions because it means I can actually exercise knowing I won’t be doing any damage to my ongoing Lymphedema. I felt so relaxed and a lot more confident in myself. I have better balance and I have less pain and discomfort than I did at the start of the sessions.”
Another participant, Leah, added: “I did all six sessions and I really enjoyed them. The warm water really helps with my pain levels and has helped my joints and muscles. It has really lifted my mood and I have grown in confidence.”
Participants have been given the chance to engage in long term physical activity by receiving an Active Leeds LEAP card (Leeds Encouraging Activity in People), which permits entry into Active Leeds leisure facilities at a discounted rate. Several participants now take part in regular physical activity away from the hydro pool sessions.
Esther said: “I am definitely more active than before because I have more flexibility and less pain. Since getting my LEAP Card and joining in some classes I feel I can only get better going forward.”
Nicole, who attended five of the sessions, said: “I am becoming more active due to being more confident with my balance. I attend the gym using my LEAP Card and plan to attend new classes.”
The success of the project has resulted in the community centre wanting to continue the hydro pool sessions in 2024 and beyond, and conversations are now under way with local social prescribers and health services to look at sustainability of the offer.
Dani Davis, Regional Development Manager in Yorkshire & Humber at British Triathlon said, “I feel so proud of what Fiona has achieved with the women from New Wortley Community Centre. Fiona has worked extremely hard over the past few years to build trusting relationships in New Wortley and really get to know the women who now welcome Fiona with open arms.
“The planning and logistics of the sessions, from securing the venue to breaking down financial challenges, has been a tremendous task. To hear the impact of these sessions on the women involved is truly heart-warming, and reminds us all of why we do the work we do. I am excited to see what is next to come in our priority places!”
British Triathlon’s Priority Place work aims to utilise swimming, cycling, walking and running as pillars to reducing health inequalities and improving physical and mental health of local residents. The project in New Wortley was co-designed by one of the women’s groups at the community centre who expressed an interest in accessing the hydro pool at Armley Leisure Centre to enable them to complete mobility, strength and balance exercises in the warmer pool.