I am employed by Oxford Hub, who are in partnership with Active Oxfordshire. Sports England gave us funding during the Covid lockdown, to put on activities and try and help people come out of their houses during lockdown, to help with mental health and things. Blackbird Leys, or Greater Leys, that's my target area, and my goal is to try and engage with the community in leisure, sport, or creative things, basically.
I know how it feels being stuck indoors. I used to be an athlete. I still do little bits and pieces, but I injured my back. So for me to go out for a walk is not really that possible. But I can cycle so the pressure is alleviated from being on the bike. With cycling, you can just get out of the house and go for a little cycle, and, without even realising, you’re doing exercise. So, for example, somebody with diabetes or a health condition needs to get out, but doesn’t want to do exercise because they're a bit more physical. Cycling is just like gentle and before you even realise, you’re doing it.
I work with a bike project called Ready, Set, Go. We give bikes to people who want to learn to ride or don't have a bike but would like to get out to learn to ride. So we give that to families. A lot of them are refurbished bikes. And they're also for key workers. The bike project is going well, we've given out, I think, 31 bikes to families in Oxford. And next year we're hoping to get a bike maintenance person on Blackbird Leys, so when people have their bikes, we will teach them basic bike maintenance, if the chain falls or simple little things. So you know, it's not just giving you the bike, you're also learning how to take care of your bicycle.
Also we've given out sports packs. During lockdown you couldn't go outside your house. So you have a sports pack, to engage with your family, outside, in your back garden, wherever, you know, to get outside and be healthy, do a bit of exercise for 30 minutes or something. That’s worked quite well. I think 70 packs went out so far to people in Blackbird Leys and Greater Leys. Basically, you have different types of balls, basketball, football, netball, rugby ball, soft dodgeball. You had tennis racquets with tennis balls. We had a bell ball for people with disabilities so you could hear the ball, you know, for people if they're blind or visually impaired. Skipping ropes, skittles, hula hoops, beach balls, all sorts. So you fill in the form online, tick the boxes of what sporting equipment you'd like, you can pick a certain number of things, and then we send them out to families.
How I got involved, actually, is I applied for a sports pack. And then I was talking to Emma, who’s now my manager, and we met up and we was talking about things. I'm very passionate, because I've done something like this before, which was called Active Women. I basically worked with women in Oxford, to focus on sporting activities. So when this come about I said, ‘Yes, I'm very interested, I’ll volunteer some time.’ And then I went from volunteering to working eight hours, and now I do 15 hours.
During the lockdown, it's been quite challenging because one minute we've got to be locked down and like, two meters apart, and the next minute you could go out. The main struggle is trying to find premises that you can use for activities, because everywhere basically was shut during lockdown. So that was very hard, and you know, consistency is important. Now the sessions have been moved online for people still to engage and do activities, because it's very hard to set up something for then it to stop and start, stop and start.
One of the sessions that we're trying to do is mother and child yoga and Pilates. Around here, there's a high number of single mothers with children. One of the sad things is through this pandemic, as you know, lots of people have lost their jobs, and there are staff shortages and things like that. So in the leisure centre, they've locked off the crèche, which is a very devastating shock to the women, because they will go to the pool, drop the children in the crèche and then go and have a little bit of me time, come back and take their child. So that's where we're trying to, you know, fit in. It's important to try and do something for women who have children, so they can come out, because childcare is a very big barrier. That's what’s stopped a lot of people from engaging in activities previously, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’d love to, but who's gonna look after my son?’ I think if someone's thinking of doing something for the community, the most important thing you should do if you’re putting in for a budget is think of childcare. Then you’ll have the people.
I was suffering from low mood from being inside during the first lockdown. I was classed as vulnerable so I had to stay inside. The funny thing about this role is I'm one of the people who they were helping, now the roles are reversed and I'm on the other side helping the people who I was. My mood has changed. I'm happier, because I'm passionate about helping people. My confidence has changed and grown. Everybody I work with, they're very kind and gentle so that makes me feel very comfortable. I'm allowed to use my ideas to do what I like. Because of my injuries, I've been out of work for about a few years. I always used to have anxiety and wonder, ‘Oh, gosh, what am I gonna put on my CV? How am I gonna get back into work?’ So the fact that I'm in this role, even when I started out voluntary, that the team are wonderful, that I'm very passionate about what I'm doing – that means the world to me.
Because I'm living in this area, I know a bit more about how things go and the areas we need to reach. I find a lot of times when you do things in Blackbird Leys, people forget about the people in Greater Leys, you need to engage more inside the pocket. It's all about just having conversations with people so they know who you are. And it's not always about activities. So say, for example, you've got a problem and you don't know where to go, just chat to me and I can find out who in my team I could refer you to, to get help. Some people, their pride has been so dented, they don't want to seek help, and, you know, all it needs is just a simple conversation. So for example, one lady I was talking to, she joined one of our sessions, and then she was talking to me about how she'd like to study. So I spoke to one of our partners from Aspire, Nicky, and then he forwarded her on to Ruskin College. So she's going to do a course in counselling. I've helped her more than the job centre or other people. Just from a simple conversation. So if people feel comfortable with you, you get more out of them, then you know more about how you can help them do things.
The most important thing is talking to people. One of the things here is a lot of people don't realise there's so much diversity. So, like, when you work with communities, you have to remember, there’s people who’ve come from elsewhere, you know, you've got refugees and things. Not everybody can speak English. You take this for granted. Not everybody can read. You take this for granted. Remember not everybody can see. And not everybody can hear. So when they say, for example, where I live, we’re a deprived area, we’re hard to reach, it’s actually about finding a way to reach the people. Everybody's reachable. It's just you have to think how you're going to reach them.