New community project set to launch in Buckfastleigh with support of The Active Wellbeing Society

Be Buckfastleigh is a collaborative community project with the people of Buckfastleigh to develop new activities and opportunities within the local area for people to connect, learn, be active, care and give.

Public sector cuts have had a dramatic impact on Buckfast and Buckfastleigh, the statistics speak for themselves: 35% of local children live in poverty (compared to the national average of 28%) because of low wages, declining public services and a decline in high street trade. The link between poverty and poor health (both physical and mental) has been proven by charities, academics and policy makers across the world – and these health inequalities not only affect us as individuals but also the local economy.

Buckfastleigh Town Council has been trying to address the lack of services and opportunities available in the area by asking local people what they want and helping to plug the gaps. In the last few years there have been a range of activities put in place for people of all ages, investment and improvements for Victoria Park and Pool, a community cinema, the ‘Hello Summer’ programme for kids, community meals and events. Be Buckfastleigh wants to build on that work by working with local organisations and other communities to maximise the impact of the activities and bring new projects to life.

By working together, we want to build on some of the great work happening in the town in recent years and support the community to address local challenges, injustice and inequality. The project will be funded by, and delivered in partnership with, The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) – a community benefit society working to develop happy, healthy communities living active and connected lives (

The project will launch this September with the appointment of a new project manager (Ben Bryant) and a ‘Community Living Room’ space where people can drop-in, meet for a chat, share ideas and participate in a range of activities going forward. The ‘Living Room’ will also include a community fridge allowing us to share food and prevent waste together.

Ben Bryant, The Active Wellbeing South Devon Cluster Manager

Ben will work with people and groups across the community to identify the gaps in local provision, help the community sustain, support and grow existing activities as well as stimulate new projects. Be Buckfastleigh will have a number of priorities over the next 12 months, which will be determined through working with the local community – one clear priority already identified will be increasing provision for young people from surrounding areas to come together for positive activities.

Be Buckfastleigh and The Active Wellbeing Society are keen to partner and work closely with other small South Devon towns where communities also recognise the importance of wellbeing, for both individuals and local enterprise. Social morale and relationships – people working together – is what holds local economies in small towns together, by working in partnership with other towns Be Buckfastleigh will support communities to tackle shared challenges and create opportunities for everyone in the local area to thrive.

To find out more have a look at our Facebook page (Be Buckfastleigh) and come down and visit us at The Living Room, 55 Fore Street, Buckfastleigh from mid-September.

Karen Creavin, Chief Executive of The Active Wellbeing Society: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with local citizens and organisations in Buckfastleigh and look forward to making a difference for the community together”

Pam Barrett, Chair of the Be Buckfastleigh steering group said, “This will be an incredible opportunity for us to develop some of our activities and make them more stable for the future. The Active Wellbeing Society bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience with them and I am so excited about working with them and with other communities across South Devon.”

17th September 2019  |  Adeel Khan

Exploring how a community heritage project can impact the health and wellbeing of people [Guest Blog]

Guest Blog by: Rachel Gillies

Our partners at The Active Wellbeing Society have been supporting Represent as we explore how a community heritage project can impact on the health and wellbeing outcomes of participants.

At The People’s Heritage Co-operative we believe that connecting people with their heritage – with creativity and curiosity – can have a profound impact on their connection to the world around them. Knowing your own history can help people feel rooted and give a sense of belonging. Sharing important stories is important for individuals and communities alike.

That is why we have been using the ‘5 Steps to Wellbeing’ model in planning our workshops to help participants come away from sessions having had a positive experience which will hopefully boost their mental wellbeing.


From first meeting our two community groups it has been so apparent just how much participants love going along to regular sessions and just how important those connections with others are. It’s been fantastic to bond with members of the groups over tea, biscuits – and even homemade pakoras!

We have been nurturing these relationships through working around the needs of each group – supporting their social activities and encouraging plenty of discussion and sharing of ideas.

Be Active

Exploring on foot is not only a great way to get some exercise, fresh air and see a neighbourhood, it’s also a wonderful way to enjoy some informal conversation. Admittedly, one attempt to go for a wander on a windy day was swiftly aborted, but we have enjoyed some ambles around the roof gardens at the Library of Birmingham and Handsworth Park.

We particularly enjoyed discovering parts of Handsworth Park which we previously knew nothing about. The women from Saheli Hub were so generous with their memories and reflections as we wandered around. Actually being in the Park amongst the trees was so stimulating for us all. We used the opportunity to begin to visualise the space 100 years ago.

Keep Learning

With the eldest participant upwards of 90 years of age, it has been wonderful to see that increasing years have had no negative impact on anyone’s curiosity. This part of our project has focused on giving participants new knowledge – the next phase will focus on the groups developing new skills through working alongside a creative practitioner to develop material for a touring exhibition.

Give to others

This project has been all about sharing. There have also been so many valuable contributions – facts about the neighbourhoods we are working in, memories from childhood, connections between the past and the present day. We have encouraged everyone to contribute and this has been met with real generosity. Giving people permission and space to share their memories is one of the best bits of heritage work. These contributions will form part of the final exhibition for Represent in Spring 2020.

Be mindful / Take notice

We have literally been taking some time to smell the roses – and the many other plants in the open spaces we have visited. Our Summer workshops have fortunately coincided with good weather, so we have been taking sessions outside as much as possible.

One highlight has been taking members of Edgbaston Community Group onto the rooftop terrace of the Library of Birmingham. As well as taking in the Birmingham skyline and pointing out familiar landmarks, many of the group were also drawn towards the plants on the terrace.

Are we making a difference?

Planning a project partly around the wellbeing of participants has been really useful for encouraging us to think critically about what participants will come away with. With only a handful of sessions planned for each group, we aren’t expecting to make a huge impact on anyone’s lives – and anyhow, both groups already access a range of really great activities. But this is a learning project, so we will be seeking feedback from those involved in workshops to try and find out what is working and what we could improve on.

Could we do more?

As we develop the next phase of our project, we would really welcome comments and ideas on what we have done so far. Do you know of other organisations doing great work, or have you benefitted from being part of a community heritage project? Drop us a line at

Interested in doing a blog article for us?

We’re keen to hear from people on how they started their wellbeing journey or from partners who work collaboratively to make it easier for people to access local initiatives.

If you’d like to do a guest blog for The Active Wellbeing Society please email

17th September 2019  |  Adeel Khan

Walking with others – Josephinas story

Whether you walk much or not, the chances are you spend more time walking alone rather than with other people. However, walking can become a much more fun and enjoyable activity when you do it with others. Working as a team to support, motivate and encourage each other, walking groups can be particularly great for those who spend a lot of time solitary or indoors.

Some of the many benefits of social walking include:

  • Improving both physical and mental health
  • A way to meet and connect with others with similar interests
  • Explore your local area in a new way
  • Get some fresh air
  • Make new friends in your community

Josephina lives on her own and admits she enjoys her own space, but a routine visit to pick up a prescription ended in her joining a walking group- and loving it!

She says “I discovered the walking activity at my surgery by chance a year ago, when I saw a group of people getting ready to go for a walk and I joined them instantly with the wrong flat shoes on, after all I was only picking up a prescription when I noticed the excitement as I entered the surgery that day”.

“The group standing there made me feel I wanted to try it, join them for one day only to see what it was like, so I did, and I have been going since. I noticed straight away that there were others like me from all ages living alone, some with families living not far away and I also discovered as days went by that not only people turned up to keep fit, had health issues but that we had a lot of things in common such as gardening, sharing historical stories from the local area, laughter, sewing, art ideas, DIY, photos, triviality too”.

There is a real sense of community in a walking group, and no one is made to feel left out or like they slow the group down- even four legged friends are welcome to join.

“The walking activity is not a marathon; we wait for each other. Some walk faster than others but kindly wait or come back and join the slow ones, smiling. Charlie the leader’s dog joins us every Thursday morning and she is an invaluable piece to the puzzle, she brings joy to the session no doubt about it”.

For Josephina, the walking group has become a regular fixture she relies on and looks forward to in her week.

“The walking activity makes me get up, get ready to meet a group of kind, caring people, and it has become very important to me. I need them but I don’t tell them. I have health issues like everybody has and it really helps me, winter temperature does not discourage me either once the 1 hour 15 minute session is over I go back to my world of solitude which is still there waiting for me and I adore, but not before we pay a visit to the local library for a cup of tea and a biscuit where everybody is also very kind, fun and friendly”.

If you would like to see what walking activities are available in your local area, and discover the benefits of social walking yourself, visit for a full list of activities, as well as The Big Run Project who also offer walking groups at  

16th September 2019  |  Adeel Khan

Britain’s Active Parks conference announced

Source: Svend Elkjaer, Director, Sports Marketing Network

The Active Wellbeing Society are excited to be part of a new one-day conference that focuses on how parks can play an increasing role in getting people active and helping change lives.

‘Britain’s Active Parks’ conference will be held at Midlands Arts Centre, 24th October 2019, Birmingham and will feature real stories and successes, lessons to be learnt, ideas and experiences to be shared

This conference is aimed at representatives from parks, social and sports development and other departments at our local authorities, social prescribers, public health, trusts, social enterprises, community groups and health and wellbeing bodies.

Karen Creavin, Chief Executive of The Active Wellbeing Society will also be in attendance delivering a talk about ‘Working collaboratively with our communities to test out the ways to bring our parks into use as venues for physical activity’

Why Parks and Green Spaces are important….

There is an increasing focus on the importance that our parks and other green spaces can play in getting inactive people active.

There are many ways of motivating and taking physical activity specific to local people in their park. This may include different levels of physical activity which can be fit into a general walk or dog walking schedule, the use of new technology to link to further information or perhaps the use of augmented reality and games.

There is no generic template for a good park or green space. The connections between experiences of nature, including diverse trees, plants and wildlife and mental wellbeing are strong. A park that only serves as a children’s playground or a football training ground is not fulfilling its potential,

There is also a strong case for saying that using parks for people to be active supports mental wellbeing and social inclusion and contributes to a preventative health agenda.

Also, while green spaces are important we should also remember that ‘blue space’ matters too. Rivers, lakes and canals are all great places for people to enjoy paddlesports, swimming or just being near the water.

The possibilities for our parks as places where local people engage and are active are numerous and there is considerable scope for local residents to share their experiences of using the park, to help people come up with ideas.

It is also important to recognise that visibility in the park makes it easier to see people like being active – reducing social distance.

There are also a number of ways that local groups and community entrepreneurs can become involved and develop bottom-up initiatives which can have a real impact due to their understanding of local needs and people.

The conference presenters will be sharing sharing ideas, best practice and experiences such as:

The challenge of moving at scale while keeping it local Dr Justin Varney MBBS MSc FFPH, Director of Public Health for Birmingham City Council

Creating an accessible parthway for people on lower incomes to offer them free outdoor exercise classes Born Borikor, CEO, Our Parks

Working collaboratively with our communities to test out the ways to bring our parks into use as venues for physical activity Karen Creavin, Chief Executive; The Active Wellbeing Society

It’s all about the local community and award-winning green space management Paul Harper, Sports Development Officer, Glendale Lewisham

Designing our cities to be playful: beyond parks Dr Emmanuel Tsekleves, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University

Actively to Nature – Devon Gareth Dix – Director Strategic Relationships, Active Devon in partnership with Sport England

Waterways have the power to make a difference to people’s lives Richard Preston, Partnerships and External Relationships Manager, The Canal & River Trust

Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces Angela Lewis, Head of Programmes, Fields in Trust

 Parks – our natural health service greenspace scotland’s newly appointed Green Health Programme Manager

You can find further information here

Svend Elkjaer, Director, Sports Marketing Network 01423 326 660

19th August 2019  |  Adeel Khan

Dr Carol Coombes OBE

‘’It is with immense sadness that this week we learned of the death of one of our founder board members and leading lights of our organisation, the force of nature that was Dr Carol Coombes OBE. 

Carol was an amazing inspiration to everybody at The Active Wellbeing Society. She was fierce and quirky, intuitive and strategic, an empathe who understood the journeys of those who were at the edge of our communities. She stood proudly for the ordinary woman, and man…  She championed for those who didn’t have it to champion for themselves. She was real and brilliant all at once. She taught us many valuable lessons and the world is a better place for her time here. 

The Active Wellbeing Society want to work to offer a legacy from her involvement with our organisation and our city. Over the coming months we will work with her family to identify the most fitting tribute to the amazing woman, colleague, board member, grandmother, mother, and friend, best friend that was and always will be Carol Coombes.

In time The Active Wellbeing Society will remember her with a joy and lightness that comes with remembering those that are truly great. For now, we are heavy of heart as we slip into the past tense for the woman whose presence was so very vibrant and real. She was loved and she will be sorely missed.’’

By Karen Creavin, Chief Executive of The Active Wellbeing Society

About Dr Carol Coombes OBE

Carol was the senior partner in the strengths-based consultancy Cracking Leadership. She was a globally recognised figure in strengths-based Leadership Talent-Spotting and Development. Awarded in November 2009 what is held to be the first (and still the only) OBE in history that cites Services to Leadership, along with Charitable work. Fellow of the Institute for Leadership and Management. Awarded a Doctorate from Birmingham City University for Outstanding Contribution to Business.

The only non-white woman to appear in the first ever West Midlands Power 50 list. Regular and International keynote speaker in various high level business disciplines including Leadership, Corporate Sustainability, O.D Change and Challenge, Social Enterprise, Identifying and using your natural strengths.

Diagnosed with cancer classed as terminal in early 2017, Carol established Cracking Wellness, now being developed by The Active Wellbeing Society, as the first collation of wellness data, and intelligent usage of current data

Separately, she’s called for open debate re ownership of the UK Cannabis Industry, which she believes should be used to fund Essential Public Services and find kinder approaches to wellness.

Even whilst she was unable to work, Carol leveraged influence and invaluable networks across all sectors to urge/ facilitate joined up thinking, helping people to find new solutions to old (and new) challenges. Her employment included: CEO of one of the largest Advice agencies in the world, Regional Senior Programme Director for a global charitable trust, Director of Social Enterprise for enterprises delivering across the UK.

Delighted Mother to 4, Nan to 6 (shares in an additional 2)

15th August 2019  |  Adeel Khan

George makes lovely things in clay

I joined this pottery class at the beginning. We’re about two or three months into it now. I live very locally, virtually on the doorstep.

I came, firstly, because it was something for an older person to do.

As I used to be reasonably creative when I was a schoolboy I thought it would be a nice thing to join the pottery class to give me some interest and get me involved with local community.

I’ve made lots of things.  This is a cheese board. It’s a decorative.  The original thing we made was these leaves which were an introduction to handling clay, really. Anita, our instructor, thought that if we started off with a leaf, which was a big ordinary leaf out of the garden and cut around them it would be easier. As they dry up they firm up and now we’re in a position so if we want to glaze them we can. In the meantime we’ve had other things to do. We’ve had pots with decorative things. Last week we made various other garden pots. We’ve got about 5 of us who come here regularly.

It’s very pleasant and therapeutic. I’ve got an enormous amount out of it. First of all, it’s ideally placed where I live. Secondly, it’s very pleasant. We’re a slightly older group. It’s quite nice for me to talk to some of the other older people.

I’ve been here [in Balsall Heath] for about 25 years. I ride a bicycle everywhere and, until very recently, I used to have every child in the road wanting bicycles repaired. I used to sit on the doorstep outside my house and show them how to repair punctures and how to repair their brakes.

Now my wrists are a bit arthritic and it’s too much of a strain. I didn’t charge them anything but in the end I used to say to the kids, you have to bring a pound for your puncture repair kits otherwise you’re not getting anything done. You have to show them how to have a little bit of investment.

I’m the chairman of seven streets residents association.  A lady who has died unfortunately, May Pearson, was well known in the area – She got me involved because I used to take her and others shopping or to the hospital or the doctors surgery because I had a car. So I got myself quite involved in the community. I had never intended to stay but I found myself completely at home and now I don’t intend to go anywhere else. It’s been very good for me and I feel like I can do something useful.

Most people would like to come to this pottery, I think, but a lack of confidence is a problem but doing this improves self esteem. I’ve always been an outgoing person so it makes no difference to me. I enjoy this because No man is an island. You need human contact. One of the things I like about coming here is that you can come and just have a cup of tea.

I tell people that I go to St Pauls and they say, I didn’t know it was there. It’s such a shame. It’s brilliant for people like myself.

4th August 2019  |  Marcus Belben

Happening in Billesley and across Birmingham

Backs to the Future?

Air Quality on Clean Air Day

What our air quality looks like

To mark this day, additionally to events and workshops in and around our schools, Active Communities planned an air quality relay using it’s Air Quality Monitors with the aim of mapping air quality in as much of the city as possible. The aim was be to get as many people to use the air quality monitors as possible in a single day to increase the data available.


Running a Centre – ‘What makes it is the Volunteers’