Read time: 10 min.
Issue 14 * 02 March 2024

Cathy Jamieson: The Power of Community for Health and Wellbeing

Cathy Jamieson, former Scottish Labour MP and current Director of Kilmarnock Football Club is championing community health and wellbeing. She explains how community initiatives can break down the barriers to improving health and wellbeing.

Bethan Cole

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Community Engagement

Cathy Jamieson wants physical health, mental health and wellbeing to be second nature for everyone in society, irrespective of age or background. She believes that needs a rethink of where and how people get knowledge of health and wellbeing matters and how they take more charge of their own wellbeing.

“People can sometimes feel intimidated going into health care settings. So we’re trying to find places in communities, like football clubs, where we can promote healthy living initiatives and support, without wellbeing being stigmatising or intimidating.”

“There are significant barriers,” she comments, “Making people aware of what’s available, and people feeling it’s for them is really important. The work we’ve been doing at the football club builds on the fact that it’s somewhere they’re familiar with and have a connection with. For example, we’ve found that they are more likely to go to a weight loss programme in a football club than somewhere they don’t know or somewhere they feel they’re going to be judged.”

According to Cathy, it’s a well-known fact that people in the poorest environments and on the lowest incomes are less likely to attend healthcare settings. “We have to work harder at getting across to people in those areas ” Cathy gives the example of the walking group at her local football club as the sort of thing that reaches out to people on lower incomes to tackle physical and mental health. “We need different ways from in the past to reach those groups,” she says.

Technological Community Health

“One of the things we learned through the pandemic,” continues Cathy, “was that people adapted to life online. The pandemic changed things and people turned to online knowledge and support.” And this, of course, is where Goldster comes in, having created an online health community to help people take control of their physical and mental health and wellbeing via hundreds of classes. She believes that online options can be a vital part of the health and wellbeing journey.

Cathy’s own husband has Type 1 Diabetes and has recently begun the online DAFNE course. Having had diabetes for over 40 years, he was at first unsure of whether it would be useful as he felt he was managing his condition. However, the additional knowledge and new thinking discussed in the course, along with the support from others in the group has helped him make changes that he wouldn’t have considered before. She believes that technology and online resources can be used for both the prevention and managing long-term conditions, giving people the knowledge and support they need to engage in well-being activities. But she stresses the importance of relationships with those leading the courses to ensure a personalised journey.

Health Workers and Communities

Cathy shares an example of a successful collaboration between community health workers and the communities they serve. “At Kilmarnock FC we have recently been running a group for men who are prostate cancer survivors, giving them more knowledge about their condition as well as the opportunity to engage in fitness activities and mutual support. This has brought together men from a wide variety of backgrounds around a common interest.”

Their success has been measured by getting feedback from the people participating who often say it’s given them ownership of their health. “The impact we’re seeing for these individuals is that they feel more in charge of their health” says Cathy, “Ultimately health authorities will want to measure outcomes in terms of numbers attending GPs or coming into acute settings. But the impact on mental health and wellbeing should also be a factor.

Of course, some chronic diseases can be delayed, prevented or managed through physical activity.” Cathy feels this is important as people age, and it’s important for communities to encourage and support older adults in maintaining an active lifestyle. “The important thing is that they’ve got that knowledge that physical activity is important and it can be enjoyable! ” states Cathy, “It’s not seen as ‘I have to go and do this because the doctor has told me to.’ Communities are getting people involved.”

Mental Health Awareness

Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are prevalent amongst older adults, but there are community-based strategies that can be implemented to improve mental health awareness, says Cathy. “We need to get the message across that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and for people to be able to say ‘I could do with help, I could do with support.’” She gives the example of Scott, a Kilmarnock fan who sadly lost his son to cancer and felt that his world had collapsed around him.

He got involved in the fitness and wellbeing programmes at the Club and has gone public on how it has turned his life around. He is now a regular at the weekly health walk and get-together, and in April will undertake the 26-mile Kiltwalk to raise funds to help Killie Community reach out to more people who may need help. As a result of the publicity, Cathy has now been asked to give advice to a group involved in amateur football who want to set up a similar initiative in a smaller village nearby.

Physical Activity Barriers

“One of the perhaps unexpected outcomes of the COVID-19 lockdown was a focus on physical activity. For some, it was the morning ritual of the Joe Wicks TV exercises, while others used the one hour a day allowed outside of the house to walk more than they were used to. So in some ways, many people who weren’t used to walking got the message that it was good for you and found that it benefitted them. We need to continue that momentum, particularly for the over 50s,” affirms Cathy. “A lot of people don’t have the money to go to the gym, or there might not be facilities locally or easy transport. So we have to get the message across that it doesn’t have to cost a lot to keep healthy. And health professionals could help by funding community activities in local areas, coupled with “online communities” through eg free or inexpensive access to yoga and other wellbeing classes. That investment will pay dividends if it helps reduce pressure on NHS.”

Support systems such as family, friends and communities all play a role in promoting health and wellness among older adults. “Friends, family and community are absolutely vital,” Cathy concludes. “They know people’s interests. It’s not helpful to think of older people as a homogenous group. For example, I’m not doing the same as every other 67-year-old! Older people tend to be categorised as if they are all one and the same. We need to treat people as individuals, especially with health and wellness.”