Widnes Vikings' innovative Game Changer programme, which aims to improve the health and fitness of local children, has been highlighted for outstanding results in its first year.
Six staff from the rugby league club have been working in 36 local primary schools over the last year, fulfilling a pledge to ensure no child in their local borough of Halton, Cheshire is allowed to start high school obese.
Key to the multi-agency programme is securing commitment from headteachers, teaching staff, parents and pupils that children in years 2-4 will undertake 80 minutes of physical activity every day. Once a bespoke plan is agreed, a formal pledge is made in school assembly in week one.
Widnes Vikings' delivery team embed exercise routines and healthy lifestyle choices in the daily curriculum, delivering physical activity which includes the fundamentals of movement, multi-skills, games-based sports, adventure trails and obstacle courses over a period of 12 weeks.
They then work with school staff to set up 12-week sustainability plans to ensure the programme leaves a lasting legacy.
"That's one of the biggest differences with Game Changer," Widnes Vikings' Commercial and Community Director Richard Munson told ConnectSport. "Typically when clubs or coaches go into schools they deliver six or eight-week interventions, but the impact doesn't last. Our programme encourages children to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours that they will sustain throughout their lives."
To reinforce this, Year 5 and 6 children have undergone leadership training and are now helping younger children during Game Changer activities. In addition, Vikings first-team captain Chris Houston has delivered mental resilience training for Year 6 children to encourage them to stick with it.
The initiative was commissioned by Improving Me, the NHS Cheshire and Merseyside Women's and Children's Services Vanguard. It is supported by NHS Halton Clinical Commissioning Group and Halton Borough Council.
An independent report into its first year by the Public Health Institute at Liverpool John Moores University identified that the Game Changer project has delivered “many improvements” that are “statistically significant”. The analysis concluded “all of the children report that the sessions make them feel happy.”
Munson added: "One of the strongest messages from the whole programme has been to consult with teacher and parents so that every school has a tailored physical activity plan that suits them. This was not about giving all 36 schools the same plan.
"The teachers have developed these physical activity plans themselves and engaging parents is vital as well. We can do all we can in school but at the end of the day the teachers aren't the ones deciding on what's going in the shopping trolley.
"Overall we are really pleased with the programme and the independent report. It's a really broad, feel-good programme that's shown great results."