Last week, we held the first Connect and Share virtual get together, with a focus on Active Workplaces. James Brown, Director of Local Support and Partnerships, reflects on what happened.
It’s the first time we’ve tried a Connect and Share session in this format, but in realty we’ve been doing things like this for years as part of our role as an Active Partnership. But we specifically wanted to get people together to do what it says on the tin – connect and share, because we know there’s a gap for that informal networking that has historically taken place face-to-face.
The first theme was around active workplaces, and that came from lots of discussions with people from across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, who identified it as a need to begin with. We had a really good range of people in the conversation – people who are engaged in and delivering workplace activities; people who are considering policy to enable workplaces to be more active; and people who are involved in the process of working that through in public health teams.
It was great to have so many different people with different perspectives. We had people working at a neighbourhood level and working with small or medium-sized organisations, through to people who are considering what is happening across a whole district, such as Leeds or Rotherham. There was also people working at a combined authority or city region level who are looking at employer charters for health and wellbeing.
Going into it, I didn’t really know what to expect. We wanted to focus on giving space for small, in-depth conversations between people. We purposefully mixed people into small groups to provide the opportunity to talk to each other. Some of the feedback is that people really enjoyed that format and hearing from others, with the time to focus on a specific subject. People also told us they benefitted from hearing about what was happening in different parts of Yorkshire. The feedback after the event was that people wanted more time for those small group chats, and that’s something we’ll look at for next time.
One of the main learnings for me around active workplaces was some of the great work that’s already happening. There’s not just one thing that will make a difference. It’s not just about having a running or walking club at lunchtime, or having flexible work practices, or having senior leaders buying in and promoting that activity is good. It’s a collection of all those things that is important, and how do we work in a way that can demonstrate that, collectively.
We had examples how Leeds City Council are working with property developers, and how those developers are designing the space and opportunities for people into their working day in office blocks and shared working spaces. There was also reinforcement of the things we already know – make it fun, make it personal. Everyone will find their own space, but how do we create the best conditions in our working lives to make everyone as active as possible?
We also need to not fall into the trap of just thinking about office workers. There’s a whole range of people we need to be aware of, from small employers who may operate out of an industrial unit, to the bigger employers in large office buildings. We need to take into account everyone and think about how we do this in a diverse and inclusive way.
Last week was something of a trial event, seeing how something like this would work in the virtual world. It’s definitely something we would like to continue. It came off the back of the Leading Our Active Places: Together for everyone event series, and we know part of our role is around connecting people and sharing learning. It enables people to get an understanding of what others are doing, as well as the ‘why’ and ‘how’ they’re doing it. There’s a whole range of different themes and we’ve already had suggestions around active travel, and the future of leisure provision. Beyond that, it’s not just about themes linked to specific areas like those mentioned, but generally around how people are approaching the contribution of sport or physical activity in important topics such as racial equality or climate change, for example.
I’ve missed meeting people face-to-face, and in my opinion this provides the best way to build relationships and connect with others. However, our learning over the last 18 months shows there is continuing value in getting together and that can often be done better virtually, particularly when you’re looking to share experiences from across such a large geographical area.