This piece appeared in Active magazine as ‘A hiatus in Helsinki. Read it here:
This piece appeared in Active magazine as ‘A hiatus in Helsinki. Read it here:
The events of recent weeks have demonstrated powerfully the value of a workforce with transferrable skills. At a time of international crisis, people must adapt to work in new ways, stepping up to meet the unpredictable demands of an unprecedented situation. In the face of a threat where age and experience may come with a level of vulnerability, it is the young who must shoulder much of the responsibility for staffing ‘front line’ services.
Is this a realistic expectation when just a few years ago Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, described Careers guidance in schools and colleges as “uniformly weak”? (Wilshaw, 2016) Our young people are showing resilience and resourcefulness in responding to the current situation but is Careers education fit for purpose? Are we equipping our young people with the lifelong skills and qualities that will bring employability security in a world where their future jobs may not yet have been invented? And how do we get the people that count, the teachers, school or college leadership, parents and most importantly the learners themselves, to value a process where there are no examinations, no league tables and outcomes are notoriously difficult to measure?
In 2014, Professor Sir John Holman was commissioned, by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, to investigate Careers education. In his own words, he set out to discover “what career guidance in England would be like were it good.” He wanted to define and share an exemplar of “what ‘good’ looks like” (Holman, 2014).
The high lifetime cost to the Exchequer of each young person leaving school Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) was compelling justification for investment in a strategy that could be adopted and applied effectively across a range of educational contexts. Sir John and his team spoke to teachers, pupils and education officials in schools around the world reputed for the great quality of their Careers guidance. The resulting report included a range of recommendations articulated as eight essential benchmarks of good practice in Careers education. Sir John and his team concluded that “Good career guidance is not complicated: it is a matter of schools doing a number of things consistently and doing them well” (Holman, ibid). The benchmarks, which value equally the contribution of schools and employers, encourage a joined-up thinking approach to Careers guidance, tailored to the needs of each pupil, that is a world away from the patchy provision that previously compounded inequalities relating to gender, ethnicity and social class (Moote and Archer, 2017).
In 2015, Baroness Morgan, then Education Secretary, established the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC). Its task was to support schools and colleges in developing their own brand of world-leading Careers guidance for all pupils between the ages of 11 and 18. Its services would be free to schools and colleges and would target those “cold spots” identified as most in need (Agnew, 2019, p.11). Earlier that year, the DfE had published its statutory guidance for Careers education with the ambition of supporting social mobility by “improving opportunities for all young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs and disabilities” (DfE, 2015). During the first three years, the CEC worked with Local Enterprise Partnerships to build a national network of volunteer employers, known as Enterprise Advisers, to work alongside named Careers Leaders in every school and college. Then, in 2017, the CEC piloted Careers Hubs across the country. Headed up by a Hub Manager with the role of co-ordinating, network-building and evaluation, the Hubs bring together like-minded establishments to collaborate in delivering a Careers guidance programme built around the benchmarks and tailored to the needs of their own pupils.
The positive chemistry of the relationship between Careers Leader and Enterprise Adviser underpins the success or otherwise of the initiative. As Gerarde Manley, Careers Hub Manager with the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP), puts it, “We’ve got a mantra: ‘It’s the quality of the match.’” He continues, “We talk about that awkward ‘first date’ where everybody’s sat around the table!” Joking aside, getting the partnership right is crucial and like a dating agency, Gerarde and other Hub Managers place great importance on really understanding what a school needs out of the arrangement and what level of involvement the employer is looking for. Although some Enterprise Advisers take a hands-on approach, offering advice with CV writing, conducting mock interviews or assisting at Careers Fairs, Gerarde explains, the role has always been intended to be “strategic” and one that “moves into support and challenge territory,” working with the school or college senior leadership team to plan and develop their Careers policy.
Just as the network of Enterprise Advisers is as diverse as the people that make it up, so the Careers Leader, “the most important role in education that you’ve never heard of” as it’s been called (Simons, 2019), is recruited from all areas and pay grades of a school or college staff; Senior Leadership team members, classroom teachers and admin support staff. It’s probably fair to say that in the past many schools and possibly even some prospective Careers Leaders have underestimated the importance of the role. However, it’s one that encompasses the planning and delivery of a whole school Careers strategy as well as the development of key relationships with education colleagues, business, industry and training providers. With the requirement, in the 2018 update to the government’s statutory guidance, for all schools and colleges to meet the eight Gatsby benchmarks by the end of this year, it’s clear that Careers Education has moved firmly out of the territory of box-ticking to keep Ofsted happy. However, the success of any educational institution’s initiative is still very dependent on the appetite of their Senior Leadership Team.
Abdul Bathin, a Regional Lead at the CEC, acknowledges that achieving meaningful progress against the benchmarks without Senior Leadership Team support can be massively challenging but believes outcomes can be very persuasive.
“When a head sees a programme developed with a network of businesses and sees young people engaged, it has a huge impact,” he says, “If they don’t deliver good, quality Careers education, there’s a number of their young people that will go on to be NEET and really struggle. They’ll be failing their young people.” Abdul believes the simplicity of the benchmark framework, and the way it can be adapted to the goals of the diverse school and college contexts in which Careers Education and Guidance are delivered, is very powerful. “Our model works well in that we are a national organisation that is tailored locally. We have a model that works across the country. It’s simple, it’s easy and it’s aspirational.”
Beaumont Leys School is a Leicester Education Authority 11-16 community school of around 1000 pupils. The proportion of students qualifying for support through the pupil premium (those eligible for free school meals, in care or with a parent in the armed services) is above average. Ofsted judges the school to be ‘Good’ and describes it as one where “The values of success, ‘best self’ and ‘positive future self’ are well understood and believed by pupils and staff” (Ofsted, 2013). It’s an environment where independence, resilience, leadership, a positive attitude and self-management skills are valued highly. It is probably no coincidence that the school is also the LLEP and CEC Careers Hub Lead School, taking a strategic leadership role in bringing the best Careers support to not just the pupils at Beaumont Leys but also those across the city and in the wider county of Leicestershire.
For Paula Staley, Assistant Head Teacher and Careers Leader at the school, their approach is not a simple matter of ticking the Gatsby criteria off a checklist. Paula talks about “the moral imperative to give students the best support” and from the outset worked with her Enterprise Adviser to look “beyond Gatsby”. “It is important for the Lead School to demonstrate to the Hub schools a desire to continually get better, no matter where your starting point is,” she explains.
The profile, locally and nationally, that comes with being a successful Hub Lead School has gone a long way to solving the tricky conundrum of getting the right people on board but there is a strong sense that Beaumont Leys is a living, breathing embodiment of Gerarde’s mantra. “Working with Gerarde and his team at the LLEP has been a dream,” says Paula, “The Hub would not have worked so well if our relationship had not been so strong.”
The levels of engagement in the pupil cohort surely also contribute to that positive impact on the Senior Leadership Team Abdul talked about too. On the school website, alongside the requisite policy statements and the detailed ‘roadmap’ of activities for years 7-11, are case studies that offer a fascinating insight into how Careers has established a firm foothold in the value system of the school’s staff, pupils and their families. Here, you can read about Liam and his nan. Liam would probably have got the chance to visit a local university in due course as part of a Widening Participation programme, but Paula Staley wanted every pupil in year 8 (12-13 years old) to have the opportunity to experience university life. She decided to pilot a Virtual Reality tour at school, in collaboration with mentors from Loughborough University. After the day’s activity, pupils got to take home a VR headset so they could share the experience with family and friends. The feedback from year 8 was very positive but Liam in particular couldn’t wait to get home. “It’s like you are actually there!” he enthused, “I’m going to take my nan on a tour tonight, she’s never been to a university.”
Examples like this make it easy to understand why the CEC concluded, following analysis of its Future Skills Questionnaire (completed by more than 2000 young people who had taken part in Careers related activities in 2018/9), that the positive consequences of an effective Careers programme can be far reaching and ambitious, including outcomes such as improved motivation and resilience, reduced NEET, improved career-readiness and, in the longer term, higher wages(Tanner, 2020).
Although careful to avoid unhelpful comparisons that ranking performance can encourage, the CEC publishes an annual State of the Nation Survey which reports on schools’ and colleges’ engagement with and progress against the Gatsby benchmarks. A key tool used to monitor and drive performance improvement against the framework is the Compass+ digital platform. The software integrates with a school’s or college’s Management Information System data to enable effective and targeted Careers programme planning and delivery. In 2019, analysis of results demonstrated that on average those using the software were achieving 3.2 of the 8 benchmarks, a 50% increase on 2017’s figures, with more than two million young people experiencing an encounter with an employer on an annual basis, representing an impressive improvement of 70% since 2017. Most encouragingly, schools and colleges serving disadvantaged communities were among the highest performers (Tanner and Percy, 2019).
Much in education is cyclical. Strategies and methodologies move in and out of fashion but there are underpinning fundamental entitlements that must surely remain non-negotiable. Careers Education has travelled a long way since Wilshaw’s damning words of 2015, but hard-working education professionals always have, as Paula Staley put it, “a desire to continually get better.”
In this time of world crisis, circumstances represent a huge challenge to that commitment but, like her colleagues Gerarde and Abdul, Paula is optimistic about her ability to equip her pupils with the skills they need to get them through and carry them into their future careers. There is still so much they and others like them across the country want to do to make a difference.
“We’ve got a really strong set of Careers Hub schools,” says Gerarde. “They are really committed so they will come up with some interesting ways of tackling this.”
Paula couldn’t agree more, “It’s what we do in schools!”
It’s a movement that began in Silicon Valley as a brave new world of sharing and connectivity. Its founding fathers predicted a golden era of social interaction and social media has now amassed 3.2 billion users globally. But with world leaders tweeting each other volleys of provocation, and our personal data mined and monetised in ways the regulated media can only dream of, social media platforms have hitched their wagons to the internet goldrush to travel to a destination a universe away from that original, disingenuous fantasy.
Facebook is a business controlled by one man with a golden vote, a business whose industrial data collection and AI machines map in minute detail the interactions between humans – the likes, posts, statuses, follows, comments and group affiliations – and engage our attention so compellingly they can predict our behaviours with laser precision; they know us better than we know ourselves. Facebook generates more ad revenue than all American newspapers combined.
With no regulation, and lawlessness rampant, are social media the new Virtual Wild West, run by the biggest guns in town? And where does that leave the conventional journalist, the Lone Ranger of truth steered by ethical codes of integrity?
Millennials embraced social media enthusiastically. Small wonder; the platforms offer the convenience of interaction, information, sharing, befriending, entertainment, learning, networking, political expression…. connecting with the whole world from a device you carry in your pocket. Many of this demographic are content to just keep on clicking ‘Agree’ without reading the terms and conditions. And they lack the skills required to identify a credible source; the phenomenon of Fake News has flourished.
With an extraordinary amount of data on their desired audience and a lack of regulation or accountability, businesses, organisations, elected officials and less scrupulous or even repressive regimes can target a vast and sedated audience for their chosen purposes, safe in the knowledge their readers are unlikely to perceive bias or apply a sceptical analysis to what appears in their feed. Ripe for manipulation, public opinion is shaped by partisan, inflammatory or even fake messages, co-ordinated across multiple platforms. Whilst not every user will be persuadable, those around them may well be radicalised by a video they saw on YouTube or convinced, by disinformation a ‘friend’ shared on Twitter, to change their vote.
The ability of propogandists to micro-target the politically susceptible saw a tsunami of polarisation sweep through the 2016 American presidential election. US intelligence discovered less than 100 Russian operatives reached as many as 150 million social media users in an orchestrated campaign to sow political chaos. This, together with the change of algorithm which enabled a filtering of what a user was able to see on their feed, ultimately contributed in a significant way to the Trump victory. Hard to believe? When Russian developers launched Face App, this same number unquestioningly handed over a private photo of their face, paired with their name, and then shared the resulting realistically aged image with all their friends.
As Anil Dash observed, in conversation with Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU, when two thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, and platforms are making editorial decisions, those platforms are producing journalism; journalism unfettered by the ethical benchmarks imposed on conventional media.
The social media are hostile territory for print and broadcast journalists, constrained as they are by regulatory codes. In an environment where anyone can post ‘news’, be that truth, untruth, information, misinformation or disinformation, without fear of consequence, the impact is far-reaching. For a journalist, the constant live feedback of likes, shares, comments and follows, as well as more insidious trolling, legal worries and the pressure to be connected round-the-clock, are implicitly linked to livelihood and career progression. Social media have become an essential and compulsive element of a professional journalist’s working life; one with the potential to cause envy, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem from a drip-drip torture of pressure that can’t be turned off.
Add to this already challenging environment, the fact that of the two thirds of US Facebookusers who treat it as a news source, only one quarter actually read the whole story (Pewresearch). It’s easy to see the odds are stacked.
But knowledge is power. The revelations of the 2019 documentary, The Great Hack, blew wide open Cambridge Analytica’s use of the data of 87 million Facebook users to manipulate voters and evinced a startling response when the platform’s userbase and revenue growth began to flatline. It seems there are limits to the abuse of trust users are prepared to tolerate.
Consider also the alliance of Roger McNamee (former mentor of Mark Zuckerberg), Tristan Harris (ex-Google) and Jim Steyer (founder of Common Sense Media). The Wall Street Journal has called them the “New Tech Avengers” and they are on a mission to clean up Social Media-Ville and the very real threat they perceive it poses to democracy.
In the UK, there’s a new sheriff in town. Boris Johnson’s government has pledged legislation to regulate the tech giants, placing them under a statutory duty of care and aiming to make the UK “the safest place in the world to be online”.
Journalists can help engender a healthy scepticism in the social media user by encouraging a questioning of facts, an examination of the identity and veracity of those posting ‘news’ stories and an interrogation of the authenticity of images and video shared. With clear blue water between the rigorous verification work of the conventional media and the indiscriminate posts on unregulated social media platforms, there may be a rebalancing test of trust, or maybe the townsfolk will raise a posse to hunt down the perpetrators of disinformation.
And not a day too soon, for new challenges lie ahead. Advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence, 5th generation mobile networks, virtual reality; all will create new and presently unpredictable opportunities for challenges to human rights.
It’s time to circle those wagons.
As a fifty-something mum of boys who learned to ski in her forties, a lot of my time on the mountains is spent way out of my comfort zone, playing catch-up with the now grown up boys who can’t quite wrap their heads around why mum is making such a performance of an activity that is essentially just “standing up”.
Imagine my disappointment when my bestie of too long to count announced that she’d decided to hang up her ski poles for good.
Then, out of nowhere, I was copied into an email from the British Alpine Ski School confirming 2 days’ ski lessons for both of us! I double-checked and it was no clerical error. She’d latched onto a throwaway comment about what a great reputation the instructors at BASS have for looking after nervous skiers and decided to give it one last try. What can I say? We’ve been friends a long time!
I tried not to get too optimistic about potential outcomes; it was 5 years since she’d last stepped into a pair of ski boots. There was a lot riding on the success of these lessons for me though. Instructor, Tom, met us on the mountain for our first lesson in snowy, slightly windy conditions and was immediately reassuring. We wouldn’t be tackling anything we weren’t comfortable with. He knew all about us from the information the booking office had shared with him (not sure why we were so surprised by that?). “This is supposed to be fun, you know,” he said.
It was like a little light had gone on in my friend’s head. It was ok to just ski the runs we enjoy! The first 2-hour lesson flew past. Tom’s teaching was very intuitive. No gimmicks, no confusing technicalities, just a couple of straight-forward principles we could apply, whatever the conditions or the difficulty of the piste. Simple. And, yes, he did use the words, “Basically, it is just standing up”! We repeated the same few runs until we weren’t thinking about the piste at all, just focusing on applying the underpinning principles he wanted us to master. Honestly, the experience was transformative.
The next day, the sun was out and the air sparkled with diamond dust. The bestie surprised me by requesting a little tour over to Les Gets and Tom was happy to oblige. He chatted, coached, knew virtually everyone on the mountain and told us where to get the best lunch.
BASS is a small, English-speaking outfit of a few instructors who all share the same bespoke teaching philosophy. They’ve been in the Morzine- Les Gets area for more than 20 years and place great importance on playing their part in the local community. It’s obvious to these guys it’s always personal; you’ll never be one section of a snake of nameless pupils all learning the same thing (whether or not that meets your needs).
I’m delighted to report that I’ve got my ski buddy back again, on the condition that we return for an annual BASS ski lesson in Morzine. You know what? I’m delighted to oblige!
More at: http://www.britishskischool.com
Everyone knows the most fun you can have in Nottingham’s Old Market Square is running through the fountains in your underpants on a hot summer’s day. Sadly, when you’re over 18, that’s the sort of behaviour that can get you arrested. And anyway, with the weather we’ve been having, it’s not big and it’s not clever. As me old Mam would say, “Put a vest on; you’ll catch your death!”
Never fear though, our second favourite time of year is almost upon us as the Nottingham Winter Wonderland returns from Friday 15th November to Tuesday 31st December. Just one tram-stop or a short walk from the Nottingham Trent University City campus, get on down for everything festive. It’s the biggest event of its kind in the area, offering something to keep even the grinchiest kill-joy happy and best of all, entry is FREE!
If shopping’s your thing, you just got lucky. The Christmas market is the biggest yet with more than 70 traditional stalls selling everything from artisan foods to handmade jewellery, eco art and retro style, Fair-Trade products, plants and fragrance as well as loads more.
Set high over the proceedings, the all-glass Altitude Bar brings a flavour of chic après to le Vieux Marché. Here, you can chill with a cocktail to sounds spun by the in-house DJ whilst you enjoy panoramic views of the crowds below getting their adrenaline hit from the ever-popular Toboggan Slide, the traditional fairground rides and the biggest ever ice-rink; this year it’s a whopping 1100 square metres with a dedicated children’s area and ice path.
Will those roses in your cheeks be from the hot toddies at the Helter-Skelter Bar or the nip of the ice? We won’t tell if you don’t!
If you prefer your cool sub-zero, you’ll not be disappointed by the Alpine Ice Bar. The UK’s biggest mobile ice bar returns to Notts with ice-sculptures, mountain theming and your drinks served in real ice glasses. Book early to secure your ticket, it’ll not disappoint.
Whatever jingles your bells, you’ll find it all in one place at the Winter Wonderland this festive season.
They’ve grafted themselves a niche in the music industry. Fresh from a sold-out UK tour, I chat with Murray Matravers, front man of the group everyone’s talking about.
Every kid who’s saved for their first electric guitar, scribbled tortured song lyrics on the back cover of their English exercise book and turned their finger pads sore practising chords, has probably dreamed of achieving the kind of success enjoyed by local band, Easy Life.
They signed off their sold-out UK tour with a rammed gig at Nottingham’s Rock City on Friday night, 25 October. With their material almost entirely written, produced and recorded in Notts, this was something of a homecoming.
Easy Life defy the human preference for labels and don’t slot neatly into genres. A little bit dance, a bit Hip Hop, a brass section any Northern Soul outfit would boast about and an array of instruments so diverse there were some I couldn’t name (these boys can play!) Instead, they create their own alchemy that had the venue pulsing with energy.
Their lyrics resonate. Lead singer, Murray, turns the autobiographical stories about stuff we all stress over, the life events and challenges we’ve all been through, into conversational poetry. The crowd knew every word of every song and often belted them out with such joy, in anthems like Nightmares and Pockets, that Murray became just another member of a massive, raucous, gospel choir.
I first saw Easy Life at The Cookie in Leicester in summer 2017, where a small audience of mainly friends and family watched the boys perform 6 songs then retire to the roof terrace for drinks and a smoke.
It’s been quite a ride since 2017 with appearances on Jools Holland’s ‘Later’ and at virtually every UK festival you can name as well as a headline slot on the BBC Music ‘Introducing’ stage at Glastonbury. They’ve also signed with Universal Music.
When I chatted with Murray recently, I asked what has been his high point of 2019?
“It’s hard to choose a specific moment in amongst all the madness,” he admits. “Going to California and playing Coachella was literally the craziest thing I’ve ever done, so would have to choose that, but only because it sounds the best!”
And that is telling. Easy Life are happiest with their family of fans, friends and relatives. The ‘Mums’ turn up to every local gig. I stood next to one who sang along with everyone else, word-perfect, including the four-letter ones.
One of the Easy Life family, Rumi, had flown over from Korea for the tour, turning up to every single gig and joining the band on stage for the encore in Nottingham.
The crowd at recent gigs, though, has morphed into a different beast. With a regular 2000 turn-out, it’s developed a notorious undercurrent. Friday’s riptide spat Murray back onto the stage after a bit of a gnarly ride, winded and minus one shoe. It didn’t stop him diving back in again later, though, because that’s what the family want.
“I hate it,” he told me of crowd surfing. “I’m always terrified. It’s just something that’s expected of me so I make it happen.”
It feels like their rise has been rapid, although the boys have all put in the hard yards in other bands, income earned from part-the jobs, every spare moment spent writing, rehearsing. I wondered how Murray had coped then and how, when you’re suddenly everyone’s ‘Next Big Thing’, you avoid getting sucked in by the hype?
“Hmmm. My real friends will always be there. Everyone has a handful of people in their life they can turn to and they always help you stay grounded. Nothing ever changes with those people, it’s very important. Stay in touch with what’s real is easy when those special people are about.”
Up next for Easy Life is the Junk Food tour, with dates in North America and Europe, and there are already a couple of UK gigs announced for March 2020. They are also planning to write and record their debut album.
As Murray puts it, “Exciting times ahead!”
So, what, I wonder, would Easy Life say to the kid posing with their new guitar in the bedroom mirror? Are they wasting their time dreaming of life as a musician? I think they’d tell that kid to go for it. To play to a handful of friends and family if that’s who turns up and to take the part-time job to pay the bills so they can keep on performing, honing their art. And ignore those that tell you not to mix your genres, to get in on the first rung and work your way up, not to get back into the surf after a bad wipe-out. When asked what piece of advice he’d give his 16-year-old self, Murray is clear, “Don’t care as much, no-one else does.”
What it is that makes these boys special is hard to define; that something elusive that sets them apart, makes you sit up and pay attention. Whatever that thing is, I’m confident in a few years I’ll be able to boast, “I saw them play a gig for 80 people and then sat and had a drink and smoke with them on the roof terrace when they were just starting out.”
Don’t take my word for it, check them out for yourself:
Exciting times ahead indeed!
It’s a sad sign of the times that 8.5 million people in the UK are estimated to be living in food poverty (https://www.trusselltrust.org)
The Melton Vineyard Church could not stand by when fellow members of the Melton Mowbray community were in crisis. So seven years ago, one member of the church began packing food bags on her kitchen table in response to the local need she had observed.
Fast forward to 2019 and Storehouse Melton is a thriving initiative based at The Fox Inn on Leicester Street.
Three days a week, Storehouse opens its doors to more than 250 regular visitors who drop in for a hot drink and snack, for some company and a friendly ear or to collect one of the 60-70 bags of nutritionally balanced food that are given out each week.
The Melton Vineyard is a Christian organisation who put their values and beliefs into practice by offering emotional and practical help. The 40 plus volunteers who work alongside them come from all backgrounds, some of them people of faith, some who are not.
Co-ordinator for Storehouse Melton, Phil Johnson, describes his role as “being responsible for the resource of the generosity of the people of Melton. We get a huge amount of food and some clothing as well – managing that so it goes to the people that genuinely need it.”
He sums up the current purpose of the organisation:
“The idea is that we are a short term, emergency support for people that find themselves in food poverty.”
The coming months will mark an exciting new phase for Storehouse as the redevelopment of the old Baptist Church on Nottingham Street will offer a bigger and more versatile space in the ‘Hope Centre’.
When asked about the future, Phil is upbeat.
“I’m very confident!” he says. “There’s lots of stuff we want to do.”
With more space, Storehouse plans to add events and practical workshops to the range of support it already provides. It’s hoped that this new phase will have a really meaningful impact on helping people move back into employment.
Phil describes Melton Mowbray as “a very generous town”. On Facebook, Storehouse has more than 750 followers who are always quick to respond to calls for help. Right now, they are asking for donations of warm winter clothing.
There are many ways you can help. Follow ‘storehouse melton’ on Facebook to stay up to date with their latest news and campaigns or look for the baskets in Morrisons and Sainsbury’s where you can leave your donations of food and toiletries. If you are able to make a financial donation, you can do so by clicking the ‘donate’ button on the website at: http://www.storehousemelton.org.uk
The new Hope Centre, on Nottingham Street, will offer many opportunities for volunteering and has an open morning at 10am on Saturday November 2nd. Drop in then to find out how you can get involved.
There’s so much information out there that making informed decisions about keeping yourself fit and healthy can sometimes feel like an impossible task. Can you spot the difference between Fitness Fact and Fiction?
1. ‘Drinking water will help me to lose weight’
Sadly, drinking water doesn’t, in itself, make you lose weight (cue big sigh of relief from the diet industry). Simply put, losing weight happens when you burn more calories than you consume and however much water you drink, if you don’t create that deficit, the number on the scales is not going down. However, drinking water can play an important part in digestive function and in controlling appetite. It is very easy to confuse thirst with hunger and ensuring you stay properly hydrated can help control the urge to snack caused by thirst signals misinterpreted as hunger. Water also plays an important part in fuelling our muscles, helping them to perform during physical exercise and therefore enabling us to become more active.
2. ‘It’s best to work out first thing in the morning’
Many people claim that an early session at the gym or a run before breakfast kickstarts the metabolism, helping you to burn more calories throughout the day. While studies have confirmed this, others prove the opposite! Truth is, we are all individuals with our own exercise preferences; what’s really important is to get out there and get active. Lark or owl, pick the time that suits you best and go for it!
3. ‘I can’t run because it will hurt my knees’
Like many things, this one is a question of balance. Researchers have found that the knees of older runners are no less healthy than those of older people who do not regularly exercise. However, as with any discipline, too much of one type of training is rarely a positive thing. If you want to keep on running, make sure you include a couple of strength sessions in your weekly programme to build up the muscles that support your knees and that way you should remain free of those pesky ACL injuries that can plague runners.
4. ‘Nice girls don’t lift weights’
The weights room is strictly a boys-only zone. It’s just not what the female body was designed for, right? Wrong! This myth is one that absolutely needs to be busted. Lifting weights can change the body composition of anyone for the better. It improves insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular function, it strengthens your core, improving balance, speeds up your cognitive function and helps regulate hormones. And don’t worry, a female who includes some weight training in her programme won’t bulk up like Arnie; gaining ‘bulk’ comes from a combination of testosterone, increasing calorie consumption and very regular weight training of targeted muscle groups. For most women, weight training, even with heavy weights will make them leaner not bigger. It might just help protect against age-related conditions such as osteoporosis too so what are you weighting, sorry, waiting for?
5. ‘Yoga is a nice, gentle activity best suited to the older exerciser’
This is the kind of statement that could only be made by someone who hasn’t tried yoga! Given that yoga has been practised for over 5,000 years and there are more than 100 different forms, it would be fair to assume that it has one or two benefits? Yoga can help improve balance, flexibility, strength, mobility, the symptoms of various physical and mental health conditions, energy and stress levels and much more. It’s a complete mind-body workout and will help you get a great night’s sleep.
6. ‘It takes hours to burn off the sweet treat you have with your coffee’
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but this one is probably true. With a regular latte weighing in at around 145 calories in most coffee chains and muffins at around 400 each, you are looking at a minimum of 2 hours of brisk walking to burn the equivalent calories. And don’t get us started on alcohol – with many beers running at close to 200 calories a pint, a quiet night down the pub can quickly put a serious dent in what you’ve achieved in a good week at the gym. Now, I’m not in the business of telling you what you can and can’t eat and drink; life’s too short to not have the occasional treat, but knowledge is power, right? Don’t sabotage the great work you’re doing in the gym by making uninformed choices.
7. ‘It’s bad to work out every day’
Guidelines recommend 3 to 4 sessions of vigorous exercise each week. But does this mean that it is counterproductive to train every day? It isn’t bad to train daily but you should not repeat the same activity day in day out. Alternate muscle groups to allow recovery and avoid injury and listen to your body; you’ll know when you need a rest day. This approach will also help you to stay interested and motivated.
8. ‘Gyms are just for fit people’
If that’s the vibe you get when you walk in the door, I’d recommend you turn right around and walk back out. Gyms these days come in all shapes and sizes and if wall-to-wall mirrors are not your thing, don’t let yourself become part of the 11% of UK gym members who never use their subscription. Look elsewhere; you’ll find your team. Listen to friends’ recommendations and take advantage of free trials or ‘pay as you play’ options until you hit upon the place that’s the perfect fit.
The UK diet industry is worth in excess of £2 billion a year.
Is that a just reward, well-earned by helping millions achieve and maintain a healthy body weight? Well, in 2017, 24% of British men and 26% of British women were classified as obese with 62% of people considered to be overweight.
Slimming clubs, intermittent fasting, meal replacement shakes, the elimination of entire food groups, miracle supplements…… I could go on. All backed up by inspirational stories and motivational before and after images; a magic bullet to deliver your wildest dream.
A slimmer, happier, more successful version of yourself is just a few easy steps away. Just pick your goal and start your weight loss journey today!
And therein lies the problem. The most persuasive factor shared by all of these is the promise of an end point. You will arrive, victorious, at your chosen destination – your target weight. But then what….?
You’ll live happily ever after, of course!
Statistically speaking, probably not. Sorry about that. (A British Medical Journal article in 2011, reveals that after 5 years, just 16% of dieters following a well-known programme had maintained their weight loss.)
First you’ll chuck the point counting guides, the food diaries and the book of delicious recipes straight in the recycling. You’ll keep the weekly £6.25 in your pocket for something more fun and shove the shiny winner’s badge at the back of your sock drawer.
Gradually, the numbers on the scale will start to creep back towards, then past, your starting weight and you’ll mentally beat yourself up for being such a loser (but not in the way you’d intended, of course). Eventually, you’ll slink back and apologetically hand over more cash to start the process all over again. Maybe this time it’ll work?
So is there an answer?
Well that’s the weight loss industry’s best kept secret.
Ask anyone who’s tried to lose weight and they can tell you with total confidence what makes up a healthy diet. Here’s a clue: it doesn’t come in the form of two nutritious shakes and a delicious treat bar ‘just a few Naughty Points each’ (unless you eat the whole box in one sitting).
The key to a healthy body starts in the mind. You have to find your personal trigger; an event, a ‘candid’ photo, illness or injury, a throw-away comment by a trusted friend are the usual culprits. With your trigger moment comes the dawning of realisation:
Being active and enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods, including the occasional treat without the guilt trip, is something to commit to for life, not a quick-fix dash for goal.
Find the activity that brings you joy and find your team – they’ll give you more support along the way than the weekly humiliation of weighing yourself in front of a complete stranger.
You’ll have ups and downs, gains and losses – life’s messy and gets in the way of the best laid plans from time to time – but you’ll be in charge of your own journey and it’s ever changing goal posts.
Hey! I’m Bobby. I’m a mum of two grown up boys, retired teacher and careers adviser, wife, novice gardener/interior designer, collector of lovely vintage stuff and fitness enthusiast.
Like everyone, I have failures and successes; there are things that make me anxious and days that fill me with joy. I love the deceptive simplicity of a perfectly crafted turn of phrase (that elusive aspiration of anyone who writes).
I want to share thoughts, ideas and images; things that have caused me to pause, lessons I’ve learned, experiences lived.