Cov Mind The Gap

Boom Boom – Pow!

Where is your happy place? For me my place was; pulling on my leggings, my son’s hand-me-down t-shirts, tying up my trusted NIKE trainers and securing my long thick mane tight on top of my head. What came next could vary. Some days it was running the streets, others running through mud and fields with or without the dog. Some days feet were replaced with wheels; six miles to work, four miles into the city centre and back or a Sunday roll through country lanes with friends. A couple of times a week it would be early morning brutal HIIT classes that turn your face red and your knees weak or booty camps in the park with the girls and a brutal trainer barking orders.

My absolute favourite was wrapping up my hands and donning my pink boxing gloves. BOOM, BOOM, POW! The sound of leather hitting the pads or bags was the magic formula that unwound every tense muscle in my body.

This was my new found addiction and I wanted to share it. The boyfriend reluctance was soon a distant memory as he too became hypnotised by the powerful pull of feeling good. Nights in front of the telly were replaced with date nights at the gym, we started spending more and more time together. We looked forward to date nights and often rushed home from work to make a class at the gym or to go out for a run together. We partnered up encouraging and often trying to outdo each other. Who could make the loudest BOOM, BOOM, POW?

It wasn’t just our activity levels that were affected by our feel good obsession. Our diet was transformed as well. Meals were jointly prepared meals to fit in with our new fitness regime. Shopping lists now contained foods like Quinoa or chia seeds or coconut oil. Our Instagram photos documented our happy, healthy lives. Everything felt good in fact it felt bloody amazing

Then one day in August 2014 something happened. I didn’t know at the time how much it would change my life. But it did. Jumping off some steps at the gym I jarred my back. I wanted to carry on, push through the pain. I kept thinking it will right itself just keep going, don’t give up. It wasn’t until I looked in the mirror that I actually realised that this might be something more serious. As I stood there looking at my contorted reflection with one shoulder higher than the other, ribs jutting out I began to think that this is not normal.

What followed was a year and half of tests, worry, pain, appointments, tears, change of lifestyle, resentment, anger, grief. You name the negative emotion and it was probably felt at some time. Life had become a waiting game; waiting for appointments, waiting for results, waiting for procedures and tests, waiting for a diagnosis….

We saw so many professionals, some showed pity, some non-nonchalance, some disbelief and denial of my symptoms. Why was finding answers proving so hard? I started to doubt myself I lost confidence in who I was and what my life was about.

The glimmer of hope came when we travelled to London. As we sat there waiting in the white walled room I felt nervous yet hopeful. This was the culmination of the research to find someone who would believe in me and give me a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Thankfully we were in the right place. Hallelujah! However there was no cure, no magic powder, no pills nothing that would take this diagnosis away. The only hope he could give me was an operation to help stop the progression of nerve damage. There were no guarantees that this would cure me. My feel good feeling had long gone, every last drop had been sucked out of me along with any motivation I once had. I was struggling.

My sister told me I had a choice; I could either let this illness consume me or I could look for other things that could make me feel good. Easier said than done though as I still wanted the life I had, the more I thought about changing my mind set the angrier I got. I wanted to be able to run through the streets, travel on my bike, train insanely, hear the BOOM, BOOM, POW but most of all I want our date nights back.

I agreed to go along to an event she was doing for support even though I didn’t understand what it was about. That night I found out their mission was to mobilise communities to become more active. I met people that I wouldn’t normally have met. I heard stories similar to mine as they had challenges and choices. However the one difference was they had a call to action. This was the missing link in my story…It dawned on me I needed purpose, I needed to belong once again I needed a call to action!

Could I build a community of like minded people around the idea of feeling good? What would this community look like and what could they do to find their BOOM, BOOM, POW?

Surgery took place in London on May 10th 2016, although there are no guarantees was the only option I have to try and fight this disease. As my nerves were badly damaged there will be a long recovery period with a lot of uncertainty. So to keep the Feel Good momentum going I am on a mission to build a community around the idea of Feeling Good – now I also have a call to action! It is a fact that connecting with others makes you happy so join us as we take the steps to Feel Good. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Furthermore you could become a health activist yourself and join the Feel Good Ambassador Team there are many different things you can help with depending on your skills and time.


Dive (back in) to swimming

The headline read – Melanie in Fitness Fight after Freak Accident.  That sealed the deal – my swimming career was over and I was glad; I had fallen out of love with it. I was glad that my hair would no longer be bleached at the tips or that when I sniffed my skin it no longer smelt of chlorine but mostly I was glad that that my alarm would no longer ring at 5am or that at 5pm I wouldn’t heading out to do it all over again.  Ploughing up and down, up and down, up and down. Sometimes my goggles filling with tears.  It was a tough life living in a goldfish bowl and it had been like this for years.

Seventeen years passed.  I’d had the occasional toe dip in a pool but little more than that.  Sometimes I wondered if the story could have had a different ending but dismissed it before I even got past the first paragraph. It was over. No more bleached tips, no more chlorine, no more 5 am alarms.  During those seventeen years I’d put on a few pounds too, quite a few pounds actually and the thought of presenting myself to the public wearing a bathing suit was not something I was keen to do. But then I found myself faced with a dilemma –  my pal Kirstie mentioned an alternative amphibious experience – ‘it really is a very different she said but you will need a wetsuit and you’ll need to be up early’.  I toyed with the idea, could I really face it all again?  

Do you know what finally swung it?  The mention of a wetsuit! I knew that in a wetsuit my lumpy, bumpy bits would be less visible. So I bought one and I took the plunge confident that there would be no bleached tips, not a sniff of chlorine and no ploughing up and down.  That Sunday morning I set my alarm for 7am and half an hour later I was immersing myself in the water.  It was cold, very cold, very, very cold. I pushed off and from that very first moment I knew my swimming career wasn’t over, the exhilaration of swimming in open water, the freshness of the water against my skin, the fear of the unknown, the deep dark void beneath me, the internal scream when I touched something slimy  and the infinity I felt with the water sealed the deal. It had me –  hook, line and sinker.  And now because I am so in love with it, I’m setting my alarm again and putting myself at risk of bleached tips and skin that smells of chlorine – I’m back in the pool albeit temporarily until the lake is safe to swim in again.  This isn’t something to keep to myself, I want people to join me, to dive in even if swimming isn’t your favourite thing, this alternative amphibious experience is not to be missed – even my pal Naomi, in her own words a swimming novice had pledged to give it a go.

So today will you give something new a go?  Are you up for exploring the depths of a new way of working, even if at times it feels uncomfortable but hopefully not so  cold or slimy.  Then I ask you to take the plunge and dive in with us hook, line and sinker.  Embracing a new way. And if you just happen to think you might like to give the swimming a go too then please pop your details on the fish…

#notwaving I’m swimming

Sometimes in life we don’t know what we want until we see someone else doing it. And that’s how it was for me with open water swimming. It does look a little mad on a cold February morning when you’re wrapped in several layers to be stood beside a lake and see someone get in and swim. But then you see the smile and the buzz that they have when they get out. It takes me a couple of times to look at it and think about it. What do I have to do to get in there? Would I freeze completely? What happens if I can’t see the bottom, let alone touch it?

So I thought about it for a while and still kept swimming in my local indoor swimming pool, where I could see the bottom and have a breather if I needed it every 50metres. The weather got warmer, the evenings got lighter and the call and gentle encouragement to go swimming in a lake was still there. The pictures put on Social Media looked fun and inviting.

So, one evening I did it. Got driven to the lake and hired a wetsuit. Putting that on for the first time in years was an experience in itself. Pictures taken and then I gingerly went down the steps into the water. It was cold, took my breath away. Suddenly my body didn’t want to move and all those feelings of not seeing the bottom came flooding (literally) in. I counted to 20. No it was still cold. I counted to 20 again. Okay I’ll swim a bit to the platform 20 metres away. I didn’t that and then swam back. It was enough for that day. I could say that I did it. I’ve swam in open water.

But it didn’t leave me fully satisfied I just didn’t want something to tick off a To Do list, I actually wanted to do it more. I needed to visualise what I had done and remember the new sensations of colder water and waves that I hadn’t quite expected. I went back a couple of weeks later, this time with some knowledge of what I was going to expect. It was still cold and my fear of not seeing the bottom still overwhelmed me. I swam further than I did the last time, and I took that as a positive and listen to the encouragement that I was given. The next week a call again to go swimming in the lake was given. I then decided I needed to have a proper chat about what my fears were, what was stopping me swim when I was doing the distance in a swimming pool and not touching the bottom or the edge.

So I knew I had the skill and fitness to do it. As we talked I realised I needed someone to swim with me, as I was going alone. And so that’s what happened, 5 of us swam together 100m to the first buoy which was further than I had swum before. It felt ok as long as I had something to distract me. I focused on the small orange buoy that seemed so far away and slowly became larger the nearer I swam to it. That’s all I was going to do and then swim back, but actually this felt okay. It was decision time. I could swim the whole 500m circuit or turn back. But I actually felt good I could do it because my friends were with me. There encouragement was very gentle, simply their presence was enough to keep me going and the odd “are you alright Ruth?” So I swam 500m in a wetsuit in open water, who knew I could do that? It felt great. The glow on my face from being outside and exercising was matched by the smile that I could not wipe of my face for the rest of the day.

The outcome for me is that you can do so much more when other people are there to encourage you. I’ve gone back again and swam 1000m and have entered a swim event next month. Because my confidence has grown doing this, my confidence to find the people I need to help me at work and ask for help has also increased.

That’s how things can be for all of us. Is there something that you would like to try to do? Is there something that someone has been gently asking you to help with but you don’t know how to start? Go look at it, ask questions, try and maybe you will fail first time, or second time but don’t give up. Ask someone to help you, there are people who would love to do that, don’t be afraid to ask, even someone will say Yes I’ll come with you. Or look around you and see who needs encouragement or help with their activity or idea, how could you do that? There’s so much more that we can do when we do it together. And the joy of finding your place and the thing that you can do within a team or group is just great.

You can do that now by being involved in some of the groups here. Sometimes by saying don’t know what I can do, but I’d like to give it a go. Go to …? Ask who…?

Swim & Tonic

If I asked you if you fancied a gin & tonic your thoughts might turn to the clink of the ice as it falls into the glass, the fizz of the tonic as you twist the lid and the glug of the gin as you pour out the shot.


But what if I offered you a different tipple? The chance to try a different kind of tonic? In light of the recent alcohol guidance you might just be up for something new. A swim & tonic perhaps?


In 2016 the first measure of swim & tonic was poured in Coventry. We’re a  movement of people who want to connect through swimming in the pool, lake or wild. A Facebook page was set up, people joined & soon there was enough interest to start the first challenge: a collective channel swim – 21 miles.


At first it seemed impossible – there were no added extras – no cash in the pot, no ice and a slice, just people coming together to make it happen: uni students, sports centre staff, community folk, strong swimmers, people who hadn’t swum for years and anyone & everyone in between. The eldest was 82 and the youngest just 12 weeks. On the run up to the challenge pledges came in thick & fast – Amanda 150m, Richard 500m, Michelle 5k. 


In six days 235 people swam the channel over four times in pools across the city   – 147 of those were disabled people – almost all of them from one particular special school. Their whole curriculum that week focused on the challenge & students swam a total of 26.4 miles. They loved it so much they then lobbied their headteacher to open the pool one morning a week before school.


And so the story continues and the movement grows. 15 to 20 people per month are swimming together in the pool or even in the lake and pupils continue to swim more lengths too. 


Swim & tonic is listening to what people are telling them – ‘swimming can be boring – what we need is music!’  And so the idea of an Aqua Disco is being explored. No added extras, no ice & a slice just a community of people who take action on something that they are passionate about, intentionally drawing on shared values, and in doing so, unlocking a willingness to join in. 


So today what tipple will you opt for? A G&T or an S&T? 


Share this story with family/ friends/ colleagues – the more we talk about it the bigger the movement grows. Let’s change the nature of the tonic!

No Chance or Hell Yeh!?


This blog post is written by Mel:

My passion is fuelled by the young people I meet who inspire me to think holistically about how we unwrap their gifts and how they present them to the world.

I originally shared this platform with two young people before presenting to a large group- firstly to calm my nerves but also to provide them with an opportunity to look outward in the hope that it will one day encourage them to do the talking up here so we don’t have to; their voices are much more important.

Mel’s story:
In a time when we hear about a reduction in resources and cries for increased creativity in order to meet need, how do we use the resource that sits outside of services? The untapped resource that sits within our community?

I’d like you to cast your minds back to when you were a kid. What did you want to be? A teacher? A hairdresser? A pilot? For me it was an air hostess – I spent hours rehearsing – “Good morning & welcome to flight 767 to Geneva” – I even had the doll; her name was Dusty & she worked for my favourite airline, British Airways.

We lived abroad at the time & I became a member of the BA Junior Jet Club, clocking up mile upon mile – even sitting in the cockpit and pressing a few buttons under careful instruction of the pilot. But despite the thrill of the take off and the surge of excitement as the engines roared into action, this immersive experience changed my mind – I no longer wanted to be an air hostess.


I was lucky; I had an experience that helped me to understand that it wasn’t for me. Many young people are not this lucky, and most never even get this far.

We hear a lot about outcomes – and outcomes are fuelled by aspirations

My question to you is when we listen to young people’s aspirations, do we really listen? Do we think creatively about how we help them to explore them? Do we help them to have experiences that shape their thoughts?

If a 12 year old kid with Downs Syndrome tells you they want to be on EastEnders specifically as a member of the Mitchell family – what would you honestly think?

Hell yeah?

Slim chance?

No chance?

If a 14yr old with autism who has failed in two mainstream schools, is struggling with the education structure as we know it and who often disengages during class says – I wanna be an engineer – what would you honestly think?

Hell yeah?

Slim chance?

No chance?

How do we help young people to explore what their aspirations really mean? We may well think ‘hell yeah’ they could do that but have no idea as to how we get started.

We could think there’s a ‘slim chance’ or even ‘no chance’ and that’s the end of it we take no further action but what is the consequence of that?


Not in education, employment or training, depression, poor long term outcomes, challenging behaviour and isolation, all would lead to increased cost to services in the long run.

The wannabe engineer is Ben. He really wants to be an engineer and we have been helping him explore this.

We started by thinking outside of the box, in fact there was no flippin’ box! What there was was an amazing exploration of who Ben is and the unveiling his exclusive collection of gifts.

So what’s happened?

Ben’s’ days are happier, his behaviour is more controlled both at home and at school. Mum can’t believe the change. The five GCSEs he needs to stand a chance of an engineering apprenticeship seem more possible.

What did Ben do?

He told us about his exclusive collection of gifts and then Ben joined the Slow Roll & became part of a cycling community who take in the sights of the city at a slow pace whilst listening to music and chatting. They ride in a large group so Ben is safe. On the first ride Ben’s’ pedals fall off but Dr Marsh cycled back to his house & got him some new ones, fitted them and the ride continued. Ben then met Richard Longbeard on the ride. Richard provides the music for the ride in the form of a sound system attached to a backpack- Ben will now work with Richard, the Fab Lab & other passionate folk to build a sound system powered by a bike during the summer hols.

Engineering opportunity – tick!

Ben went to the Imagineerium to meet the Imagineers. He is going to be an Imagineer too. They are building a large interactive structure that tells the history of a factory. He is working with an engineer with a twirly moustache and little round glasses and has been assigned his section of the structure – to produce a replica rail track.

Engineering opportunity – tick!

Is Ben now growing connections that can improve his life chances?

Hell yeah!

…and the 13yr old with Downs Syndrome? He hasn’t quite made the BBC but he has had his first paid acting role in a Channel4 drama and has performed his first one man show in the City of Culture tent at the Godiva festival.

Hell yeah!

We need to set our sights high. We need to throw away the box and be super creative in how we help young people to become the next Dr Marsh, Richard Longbeard or an Imagineer or an engineer or even a member of the Mitchell family. So what could you do that means that young people’s aspirations go from no chance to hell yeah?

How might we use the untapped resource that exists in our community – a resource in the form of a different kind of fuel, currently untapped and underused?

How do we ensure that more young people who are amazing and despite having support from traditional services DOES have a job in six month’s time?

My Challenge to you today is to think who could you connect with? Talk to? How can you find out about what’s going on outside the classroom that helps our kids to perform better inside the classroom and better explore their exclusive collection of gifts…

Lightening Talk

Picture the scene:

We’re in Diamond Room 1!  Named for HMS Diamond a Destroyer launched in 2007 designed in Coventry.

A blank cube blue carpet, 3 white walls and a glass wall and door. Board room style table arrangement, an empty coat rack. Massive projector screen. No drinks.

People wearing work suits and lanyards come in straight from a previous meeting, barely a smile, no drinks no chit chat. Laptops at the ready, eyes down, going through an agenda that feels unconnected to anything real – anything that touches the lives of the people that have the difficulties that mean there is a meeting in the first place. Process and numbers, process and numbers

And you realise you aren’t helping make decisions or even influencing decisions about people’s lives: you are there to help implement inside the local authority a bit of government, policy or law. And maybe not even that – just a bit of voluntary sector decoration.

At the end no one hangs about and the cube is blank again.

Now picture this:

In the street in a shopping precinct

A group of disabled students giving a dance performance.  A big mixed group of all ages – there are babies and older people and anyone in between. People are there in suits but the lanyards have been tucked away like they do at lunchtime. Everyone’s getting entangled with shoppers as people stop to see what’s going on.

The large group snakes on and a woman breaks off stands on a concrete bench and tells a story about how she and her disabled daughter have created a good life by doing things differently. We all stop to listen.

That’s #CovMindTheGap.  Change is triggered by the right relationships. So how could we create a space for the right relationships to happen – equal, collaborative, trusting, personal? Make this a regular walk and talk of course!

If we change the relationship between services and people who might need them it could be POWERFUL.

No funding: it runs on people

83 people have walked and talked – including a good turnout of services, some of who were in that cube…

We’ve shared inspiration, explored together what could look different. Now ‘test-beds’ are being developed as pilots for people who were originally just process and numbers!

A story about telling stories…

This #CovMindTheGap blog is by is Naomi Brook.

Naomi has biological family all over the country but also friends who feel like family nearer to home. She is passionate about having a healthy lifestyle (that involves plenty of homemade cake!) and researches, coaches and participates in social movement ways of improving communities.

Naomi’s story:

Walking back from the train station recently, I decided to take a longer route home, through the Park. I had just spent a day in Birmingham, brain frazzled from staring at my laptop and contemplating statistical analysis. A friend had posted on a podcast a WhatsApp group about Labi Siffre’s song, ‘something inside so strong’. I clicked on the link and while i listened I walked up past the grand private school, along a small park by the road, and into the Park with the Memorial rising up in front of me.

The podcast was talking about a choir that had formed with singers from all backgrounds of life. They had decided to sing the song, ‘something inside so strong’. I soon had tears running down my face as I zig zagged between the trees and across the grass – this way avoiding too many people seeing me! Each person had experienced such life changing experiences, from family illness leading to homelessness, to long term mental health issues to racism and homophobia.The are lyrics so poignant – ‘refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing’ and ‘you thought that my pride was gone’ also made me think of my recent experiences. One being that just a few months previously I’d been sitting on a nice big corner sofa in my three bedroomed house in Warwick, also with tears streaming down my face. People had since told me that splitting up with my husband was incredibly brave but whilst listening to that podcast, walking round the park i felt pretty humbled. Yes, I’d done something difficult and life changing but I’d done it with money in the bank and friends to help me. These others stories weren’t just on this podcast though; they might be with the guy in the grey hoodie and the German Shepherd who just walked past me, or the old lady who just got off from the bus, or they might even be a close friend who’s never had the opportunity to tell it.

I was imagining all these stories emanating from people in the park, and wondering what could be different – what action might people take, or take differently if they heard them? Just like when hearing the lyrics my thoughts were stirred. Then, as I was getting towards the end of the podcast and my walk, with my bag starting to feel heavy with my laptop in it and the feeling of damp sweat at the bottom of my back, it hit me: it didn’t matter that my story wasn’t life changing ‘enough’. It only matters that I’m prepared to tell it. And other people are prepared to tell theirs. So I have decided to make it my life’s work to make these stories heard to make the most impact.

To enable people to tell them in a way that asks others to take action, not just sit in a big lecture hall, clap and say ‘nice story, thank you’. But to tell their friends, neighbours, community groups in run down centres with crooked chairs, their suited and booted bosses and their members of parliament – and yes, this last one has actually happened!

Maybe you have been through something that has changed the course of your life. Maybe you know people with a mental health condition, or you’ve felt stressed because of the hundreds of emails (or WatsApp messages!) you have to read, or maybe you have or are experiencing a physical long term health condition, or you know what it’s like to have sprained your ankle and have to hobble around for a few weeks. We all have stories we can use to relate to others, that can encourage or help motivate change

So use your story that will connect with others around your chosen campaign, topic or area of interest. Whether you’ve had parents separate, been the parents who’ve separated, had therapy, started Salsa, or had the experience of turning up to Parkrun for the first time, we’ve all had the experience of something that led to our lives changing So don’t lose the chance to tell – what really are – your precious stories, and to hear the stories that others carry. Together we can use these to engage with others like we never have before, and enable them to realise that we all have something strong inside ourselves, and that something is a story.

Why a blog?

This #CovMindTheGap blog started because we wanted to share all the fantastic stories that were being told about how we can achieve change very differently.

It’s about everyone!

#CovMindTheGap is about absolutely everyone coming together, sharing ideas and making great outcomes for people in Coventry.

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