Unite helps bus drivers take healthy living in their stride

Unite members at First Somerset and Avon in Weston-super-Mare are being encouraged to take a lunch time stroll along the seafront thanks to a new partnership organised by Unite the union.

Unite members take a stroll

Unite Regional Learning Organiser Tazim Ladhu has linked up with Strollers, a walking group run by community volunteer Mike Jones, to offer drivers the chance to stretch their legs and improve their health.

The new initiative was launched this October as part of a packed Health and Wellbeing day at the First offices in Weston town centre. 

The union has negotiated with managers the use of a meeting room once a week to be turned into a union learning centre. Every Wednesday new Unite Union Learning Rep Kath Williams uses the office to promote workplace learning and encourage courses and activities.

On 23rd October the learning centre was devoted to health and wellbeing, with information from Diabetes Peer Advisors and healthy living advice from North Somerset Health Trainers, whilst bus driver and qualified masseur David McDowell ran 20 minute massage tasters and also discussed ways to reduce the effects of long days seated and high stress levels on drivers. Kath and Tazim advised members of the many free courses available through the unionlearn project to further assist health and wellbeing and encouraging members to take care both in and out of the workplace.

At 11.45 a group of drivers, along with family and friends joined Mike and other members of his Wednesday Strollers group and new members at the Victorian Cafe on the seafront.

Tazim had been discussing the idea of a lunchtime walking group for union members with Mike for a while after reading his story in a local paper. She has been busy building up a partnership between the union, Strollers and North Somerset Council’s Public Health Walks.

Mike set up the group after his wife passed away and he began to re-evaluate his own health. He was 27 stone and found walking to the local health centre or shops a struggle. He joined slimming world and then decided to walk a daily mile long loop around the estate he lives on.

The health benefits of walking are well known, and Mike was soon shedding the pounds – he has lost seven stone since he started. Mike felt that walking not only improved his physical health but also being outside and active also improved his mental health, something he wanted to share with other people – so he started organising short health walks, which soon turned into Strollers.

Tazim said:

I’ve helped Mike with posters to promote the sessions in the staff offices and we discussed the best place to start the walks from. We settled on the sea front starting from the Victorian Café as there is a stop outside where buses often change drivers.”

We are looking at the possibility of holding two lunchtime walks on Wednesdays to tie in with the drivers shift patterns. I’ve also advertised the walks to local networks and organisations, union members as well as their family and friends who might wish to get involved.”

At the launch Mike signed up walkers, whilst Tazim handed out free reusable water bottles to encourage walkers to stay hydrated.

Kath joined the group at the launch of the walk and said: “As drivers we sit down all day, though we are working like crazy in quite a stressful environment.”

“I’m probably one of the laziest and drive everywhere – so when this idea came up from Tazim at the union I thought it was great. It gets us up and about and is social as well. I think the group will grow amongst drivers, particularly in the spring and summer.”

Mike is really happy about the partnership with Tazim and Unite. Mike explained: 

I had already started one walk working with the council, so it’s great to be involved with Unite and set up a second one to help their drivers and other members enjoy the benefits of walking.”

I do this as a volunteer, and get a lot of satisfaction talking to people and seeing them improve their health and confidence – I’m really looking forward to seeing how this new group develops.”

During the walk, Tazim encouraged Jess Mitchell Unite First Bus driver and Sophie Barry Social Prescriber to undertake training to be walk leaders and support Mike on the lunchtime walks.

The walk was also attended by Helen Pool from a local stroke group.  Helen advised the walk was fun and as it was flat she found it easy.  Helen will definitely promote the walk at her stroke group.  Helen also added walking and chatting with other walkers, she did not realise how far she had walked or the time taken.

At the end of the Health and Wellbeing day, Jess thanked Tazim and advised the day had left her

feeling in a much more positive mood”

to move forward with improving her own health and wellbeing.