Reflections on Virtual Wellbeing

Prior to Covid-19, The Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) delivered a range of free and accessible activities, including Tai Chi and Dance Fitness, in parks, green spaces and indoor venues across the city.

Back in March, when social distancing measures meant that face-to-face activities were no longer possible, we acted quickly to set up regular livestreams of activities so these classes could continue ‘virtually’. Every day, we have been broadcasting a schedule of activities live from our Facebook page, with lots of fun classes such as poetry workshops and yoga for beginners.

Moving our activities online was a steep learning curve which forced us to embrace different ways of working. Some staff and instructors were initially nervous about using the technology and running their sessions live on Facebook, but with support, encouragement, and seeing a high interest in participation – these challenges disappeared very quickly. The live classes provide a sense of intimacy, immediacy, and engagement, which have helped us stay connected during a difficult time.

Under #BrumTogether, most of our work has focused on the shift to delivering food parcels and providing a Befriending phone service, so the new virtual activities have helped us continue some form of regular feel-good activity. Access to regular mental and physical activity has been an important form of respite for many during lockdown. A family, who have been using the sensory walks to help maintain a sense of routine for their daughter who has autism and bipolar disorder, said ‘It helps us mentally and physically and gives us a sense of achievement each day.’ For some, the online videos have meant that they could carry on with the activities they attended pre-lockdown, and for many others it has allowed them to try new things at home.

Steve Rose, Deputy Chief Executive of The Active Wellbeing Society explained, ‘We brought the buzz from some of our activities from in person to online. Participants couldn’t come to our parks or green spaces, so we thought we’ll come to your mobile devices instead.’

Our staff and instructors have pulled together to deliver over 20 hours per week of livestream activity, with sessions suited to a wide variety of abilities and interests. We have tried to cover everything from high energy Dance Fitness with Maxine, to a gentler chair-based exercise class, as well as activities to help keep children entertained.

Most importantly, the virtual classes have been an important source of routine, motivation, and light relief during lockdown. Joy, an active person who enjoyed doing group classes and meeting people doing activities, said she felt ‘heartbroken’ when the lockdown began. The livestreams have been ‘bliss’ and helped her ‘on the road to sanity’. She gets involved with most of the activities and shares the videos with her friends on Facebook. ‘Some of them have started doing some classes too, which is great for motivating me and encouraging everyone to keep active!’

Lockdown has forced us to embrace new ways of working and has shown there is a lot we can do and achieve from within our own homes. We have found that activities can be filmed and enjoyed remotely, and that this format can be beneficial for many people who face barriers around accessibility, have childcare responsibilities, or anxieties about exercising in public. Going forward, we need to think about how people can best access and engage with these kinds of activities.

Join the movement

Want to know where and when you can take part with our live activities?

You can find live stream activities on our Facebook page and the on-demand activity finder on our website. We were the first provider in the country to launch a new OpenActive-enabled livestream and on-demand activity finder, a bit like a Netflix but for online activities.

Nina Conway
Author: Nina Conway