University and city council join forces to recruit volunteers for international health project

University and city council join forces to recruit volunteers for international health project

Community health volunteer Wendy Woolstone (centre) with Martyn Rubery (left) and Lou Atkinson (right).

Tuesday 09 July 2013

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Coventry University has been recruiting volunteers from across the city to take part in an international campaign to promote healthy living.

The University’s Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle Interventions has been working with Coventry City Council to deliver the Healthy Children in Healthy Families initiative.

This innovative three year project, which began in 2010 and which comes to an end in September this year, forms part of a Europe-wide initiative involving Denmark, Italy, Croatia, Spain and Norway.

Co-funded by the EU Health Development Fund, the project involves academic institutions, local authorities, voluntary groups, charities and other non-government bodies working together to promote healthy lifestyles to vulnerable children and their families.

A big part of the project - and vital to its overall success - has been the involvement of volunteers who have come on board to learn about the different aspects of healthy living such as diet, exercise and lifestyle choices, and who have then gone into their local communities to pass on their knowledge and skills to encourage others to follow suit.

Since August 2010 the university and the city council have recruited and trained 20 local people from different backgrounds and cultures to work as these specially designated “community health volunteers.”

The benefits have been twofold: the people coached by the volunteers have adopted healthier lifestyles and in some cases have seen their social circumstances improve as a result; and the volunteers themselves have increased their knowledge base, learned new skills and gained in confidence.

Wendy Woolstone, aged 42 from Eastern Green, Coventry is a volunteer co-ordinator at a local hospital where she is teaching young adults how to grow their own food - a project she feels is of great worth to the patients and which she herself finds very fulfilling.

Wendy said:

The project that I have been co-ordinating has involved supporting volunteers and working alongside patients in our gardening group. It has had many benefits for the patients’ general health - not only has it encouraged social inclusion and exercise, it has also promoted a positive message about the benefits of growing and eating fresh produce, whilst encouraging better nutrition.

From a personal point of view I’ve also got a lot out of this project. It’s been a very rewarding experience. I’ve seen firsthand the positive results of the project and that’s come from working directly with the patients and joining them in the activities. I think you’re more likely to encourage others to do something if they see you doing it yourself and I think in essence that is what volunteering is all about -  helping and supporting others by sharing experiences and working together.

Empowering local people to transform their own circumstances underpins the Healthy Children in Healthy Families project and this approach - known within professional circles as “asset-based community development” - is becoming a key strategic priority for many health and social care organisations, including public health service providers in Coventry.

Lou Atkinson, Senior Researcher at Coventry University and academic lead of the Healthy Children in Healthy Families project, said:

Healthy Children in Healthy Families is an international project which directly impacts local communities in Coventry and with volunteering on the rise across the country it is also a timely example of an asset-based initiative in practice.

The project is not about simply telling people what to do. It’s about involving them and imparting a sense of ownership so that they feel equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to make changes to their lives.


Martyn Rubery, Healthy Children in Healthy Families Coordinator at Coventry City Council, said:

We have been very successful at recruiting a broad mix of volunteers who reflect the diverse population of Coventry and they have made a very positive impression on people in their local communities.

The programme has also helped the volunteers themselves as it has given them the opportunity to develop tangible, transferable skills and some are looking at new career opportunities as a result of the experience.

Further information about the Healthy Children in Healthy Families initiative is available at From September 2013 all the training tools used in the six different participating countries as well as stories about the participants themselves, useful links and further information and resources will be available to download from the website.