Case Study: Headway Cambridgeshire

Tackling Inequalities Funding - Changing perceptions of disability and physical activity

Headway Cambridgeshire were awarded Tackling Inequalities Funding in phase 3 and delivered on the project from August 2021 – March 2022. 

 Using their new site in Peterborough, Headway Cambridgeshire delivered a pilot to develop a partnership programme that offers assessment and a personalised exercise programmes that ran over 12-weeks. The service can be delivered face to face or virtually. The pilot built upon the successful outcomes of similar programmes delivered by the CIC Able2B in Norfolk and linked to Headway Cambridgeshire Resilience and Wellbeing programme, which ensured additional support during and after programme completion.  


 A key aspect of the programme was the workforce development, with Able2B offering shadowing and development opportunities to Headway Community Support workers, to increase access, capacity and impact for clients and their families.

The project came about because of the negative impact of Covid restrictions were having on their client’s functional ability and mobility as well as their opportunities to socialise and be less isolated. The fresh thinking and new way of working is now showing impact, they are seeing mobility improving again and skills returning as well as clients being much more engaged in what they want to do. Sessions are much more client led, they are noisy, the energy is fantastic and really motivating for everyone and many people are then taking what they have learnt home to continue throughout the week. The sessions are also helping carers to motivate and support clients at home to keep up activities.  


The pilot was open to anyone with a physical disability who wanted to access a personally tailored exercise programme run over 12-weeks. This included people with a range of disabilities/impairments from mobility issues, weakness, and those of risk of contractures and spasticity. The model was underpinned by a strong ethos of motivational work and individual and family empowerment. While it is overseen by Able2B’s Orthopaedic Consultant the programme was delivered by an ex-Professional boxer from Able2B and Headway’s community support workers, deliberately moving away from a traditional medical model. Sessions were designed to be short and often, to minimise fatigue, optimise the programme’s effectiveness and enhance social connectedness for participants. The medical oversight enables rapid access into health services for those requiring clinical interventions. The exercise sessions were followed by informal social peer group support, led by staff with lived experience of brain injury.  


During the programme the organisation saw great cultural changes within the whole charity, including the changes of perception of the exercise programme they can see throughout with all staff.  There has been a systemic change to how the charity view their activities and key to this is the training received by one member of staff and two volunteers with lived experience from Able2B on their model of adapted exercise and using particularly boxercise to engage a whole range of people who wouldn’t otherwise think they could do the activities on offer. The member of staff and volunteers continue to engage and be supported with this new way of working. The member of staff has completely changed the way they work with clients, has developed incredible leadership skills, is so much more confident and able to motivate clients to participate in different activities. The change in mind set, also enabled the recruitment of the 2 volunteers with lived experience to work with the member of staff to support clients. This has enabled an even more inclusive and supported environment where exercise is a positive experience, and the sessions are now integral to the whole day and not to be missed.   

Historically services delivered by the charity have been linked with Occupational and psychological therapies and delivering medical therapeutic, recovery and clinical model services in the community. But this project is different it has got people out of their homes, engaged, laughing, and motivated to do exercise, regardless of impairment. It has changed staff’s views as they can do, with clients, they can see what they can do rather than see them as too fragile. The clients are benefiting from this change in perception which is very clearly now the social model of no exclusions or barriers. Sessions are very popular now and they are expanding activities and sustaining sessions with confidence that it is client led and what clients want. Now they have the equipment they can carry on and link to other services and support people in a much more holistic way, connecting therapies and services around clients. Several families have now bought their own boxing gloves and pads for their home use. Their only limitations are their own thinking and having enough staff to support sessions and enable development. 

An Individual Story

This client sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). They use a wheelchair and have right-sided hemiplegia but can walk with a frame if supported by his carer. They struggle with low mood, anger, anxiety, motivation/initiation, and fatigue. As well as joining the supported and seated exercise groups for the socialisation aspect, they and their family wanted to increase motivation levels, overall physical activity, increase movement in right arm and leg and improve their walking. They attended the supported exercise group on a Tuesday for 9 weeks (1 hour a week) and the Wednesday seated exercise group, therefore, engages with 2 hours of exercise a week in total. At the start of groups, they were often unmotivated and could be difficult to engage with the seated exercises due to poor initiation, low mood, and fatigue, although they did join in when supported by their carer (giving encouragement and physically moving their right arm and leg for them). They had an interest in boxing and has really enjoyed the adapted boxing, they will now make a big effort to move their right arm independently when boxing, even if they have to use their left arm to support. Their mood is noticeably better when boxing, they will be smiling and happy and better in conversation. After attending the exercise groups for a few weeks, they also started to initiate some of the movements themself in the warmups and circuits, needing less physical support to move their right side, instead doing it independently along with practising standing and walking which needed a lot of persuasion at the start. For example, when practising sit to stand, they would complete 1 or 2 repetitions but now will complete up to 10. They now have gloves and pads at home, and they ask to practise at home too, showing an improvement in motivation, mood and also memory as they know the types of punches and will remember combinations when prompted in the sessions.

For more information about this programme contact Headway Cambridgeshire 


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