Q. Tell us a bit about you
I was born and raised in Devon, so I consider myself a proper country girl who loves the outdoors and staying active, and I still do to this day.
When it comes to mental health, in my gap year I worked as psychiatric care assistant and that’s where my love for mental health began. I moved to Oxford in 2006 to study mental health nursing and I stayed there for 7 years working in various different nursing roles. In 2013 I decided to do something a bit different; I moved to Thailand by myself to teach English. I lived there for 6 months, travelling and teaching. It was a truly life changing experience for me. I lived minimally and simply, learning about Buddhism and practicing mindfulness. I kept myself physically really fit by running every day and doing workouts in the park and I felt the best I’ve ever felt! It was there that I decided to become a personal trainer on my return to the UK and set up my own business to incorporate physical and mental health fitness.
Q· How did Sole2Soul begin?
I love exercise and the outdoors and I know it has the potential to make a huge difference to people’s mental wellbeing, not just physical. I wanted to do more in my nursing roles, but there were limitations to what I could do due to the time and money constraints in the NHS.
Q· How did you get your idea for the project?
People with serious mental illness are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society, and are proven to die between 16 and 25 years younger than the rest of the population from diseases related to smoking, obesity and poor lifestyle choices, including lack of exercise.
During nursing assessments, I have heard numerous times from patients that they used to exercise but since becoming unwell they stopped, or that they knew exercise would help them but they just can’t manage it by themselves.
I wanted to make exercise more accessible and enjoyable, by bringing it to people rather than asking them to get to a class. I also wanted to remove the stigma that is associated to exercise and make it something that everyone can do regardless of their current situation and wellbeing.
Q· What is your background in Mental Health?
I started my career in acute child and adolescent nursing, working on an inpatient ward in Oxford. I was so lucky to have such a supportive team for my first job. I learnt a lot and I linked with lots of schools and colleges during my child and adolescent work.
I then moved to work in a community team, specializing in psychosis and supporting young adults who were experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time. I have since worked in crisis mental health teams, electro-compulsive therapy (ECT) and nursing research.
Q· To what do you attribute your success?
I have just been lucky to have had the opportunity to deliver what I love doing. It took some courage and a lot of dedication to set up Sole2Soul, but it’s been so rewarding to see how it has been able to support and inspire people over the years. I believe if you are genuine and passionate in what you do, people will see that and it creates a better outcome for everyone.
Q· Was there a particular moment when you realised that you had something unique in Sole2Soul and that it could evolve into the programme it is today?
I knew that my clinical experience in mental health alongside my personal training skills meant that I am able to offer something unique, but winning the London Sport Coach of the year award 2016 bought home just how much interest there is in Sole2Soul and how it could evolve into something bigger to support many more people.
Q· Have you seen any real changes in the language around policy development in the NHS based on the Sole2Soul intervention of physical activity in a mental health setting?
I have been able to show through patient evaluation that Sole2Soul’s programme can create very positive outcomes. A lot of the patients in mental health services find it very hard, if not impossible, to access the services in the community such as Exercise on Referral or mainstream gyms. Sole2Soul’s programme has enabled patients to take a first step into the world of physical fitness and in some cases, this has lead them to become members of a gym and being able to access community-based services.
These outcomes have certainly supported a positive drive to include more exercise in the services we offer in Camden and Islington NHS Trust, my task now however is to continue gathering evidence and roll out more exercise services for people with mental health conditions across different settings.
Q· You have recently partnered up with Ad-Lib Training. What do you look for in a partnership?
Ad-Lib will be crucial in providing the highest quality training to the people involved in the Sole2Soul programme. We seek to work with organsiations who share the same values and interest in mental health, and Ad-Lib’s empathsis on special populations is hugely important. We are excited to work with Ad-Lib and to build a wider programme to benefit hundreds of people together.
Q· How important is the skills development of the workforce in the delivery of physical activity in a mental health setting?
Ideally people delivering an exercise programme in a mental health setting need to have some experience or training in mental health in order to confidently demonstrate the right qualities to make the programme a success. People need to be incredibly flexible and adaptable to the environment and people they work with, taking a non-judgmental approach and working with the client to create a programme that is rewarding, enjoyable and achievable.
Q· What are your plans for Sole2Soul in the future?
Sole2Soul will be expanding to the south west of England in the next few months, so we are really excited and very busy! As well as continuing to offer one to one personal training to support people’s physical and mental health, Sole2Soul’s vision is to establish community programmes that act as a preventative measure to poor mental wellbeing, and this is where having Ad-Lib to train up skilled practitioners will be part of the development.
Q· Mental Health awareness is all over the media at the minute. Have you seen a difference in the amount of people talking about Mental Health and a change in numbers?
There’s been a big change in the last year, which is really great and something that mental health rightly deserves. However, in certain environments there is obviously still a lot of stigma around the subject, but I hope Sole2Soul and Ad-Lib can try and bridge this gap by offering services to the public and making it normal to bring our physical and mental health together. What we have to remember is that we can all make a difference to someone’s mental health, it is not something we need to have permission to do; we just need to lead by example and accept that it is something we all have.
Q· What is your life mantra to keep you motivated?
“Mia pen ria!” A saying I learnt in Thailand, and something that I lived by. It means “don’t worry, don’t stress, it will be alright”. I also strongly believe that “to lead a positive life you need a positive mind and exercise not only changes your body, it changes your attitude and your mood”. So, if ever in doubt – get outside and get active, it really works!