Sheffield United fitness project is helping people to tackle cancer, have fun and make friends

Sheffield United’s pioneering project to reduce the effects of cancer in the city is going from strength to strength during lockdown.

By Kev Rogers
Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 11:36 am

For people with cancer or who are susceptible to it the lockdown has added the burden of social, physical and social isolation to their day-to-day lives.

But an online health initiative run by Sheffield United has unlocked a whole world of potentially life-saving activities and FUN for these vulnerable groups in the city.

The club’s Fans FC (Fans Fighting Cancer) initiative aims to reduce the effects of cancer in the city, whether people have been diagnosed with, affected by, or are looking to improve health to prevent cancer.

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Shaun Pearson receiving one of the packages from health coordinator Josh Blunkett.

Sheffield United Community Foundation provides a diverse weekly timetable of accessible, low impact physical activity and social opportunities across the city.

People do not need any formal diagnosis but the project is aimed toward the people of Sheffield who may be isolated and not able to engage in full intensity exercise and sport.

As part of its coronavirus response, the club is also engaging the community in digital exercise support as well as remote social sessions to form friendships and bonds even during the pandemic.

Health and wellbeing manager Levi Ashton said: "Other clubs have cancer care programmes but what we are doing differently is a whole scale support programme.

Making friends on one of the regular Zoom meetings for Fans FC (Fans Fighting Cancer)

"The great thing about it being online is there are no limits. We are hoping to be pioneers and show that people with cancer and underlying illnesses are people that can really engage in these types of activity.

During this time many people in our community may be experiencing feelings of social isolation and frustration due to not being able to attend their normal day to day activities.

“If you take the barriers away from them the opportunities are endless.”

This could be anything from a chat to sending out a Community Foundation care package. Care packages are made up of essential items such as hand sanitiser and face masks as well as fun things such as puzzles and books.

Health and wellbeing manager Levi Ashton

After receiving the care package, participants gain access to the Fans FC project. This is made up of face to face (when possible) physical activity sessions as well as digital exercise sessions and online social groups.

The project is funded by the PLPFA fund and Weston Park Cancer Charity."When the pandemic happened we formed a response that could still benefit people who were diagnosed with cancer, affected by cancer but also who may have underlying health conditions which could have caused the onset of cancer, ” said Levi.

That could be living with obesity or diabetes or a sedentary lifestyle.

The aim of the project was to keep people moving so they can stay active and healthy at home.

Care packages include books on physical and mental well being, a shopping bag, facemask, hand sanitizer and everything they would need to exercise at home, including resistance bands, dumb bells ankle and wrist weights a tee shirt to exercise and a water bottle.

There are six online activity sessions – four physical, chair-based exercise and dancing, Zumba and ‘soccercise’.

All of them are delivered by a qualified exercise referral and cancer rehabilitation specialist .

"We will get their medical information beforehand so we can make sure all the exercises are safe in accordance with those joining us on the day,” Levi explained.

"We are training them to be healthier and can adapt exercise whatever their conditions may be depending what their levels of fatigue may be or how they are feeling on that day. Everyone knows they are not being judged on how they are doing it but rather they are being encouraged because they are doing something.”

And people who have never met face to face are getting to know each other with regular Zoom meetings.

“There is a wellbeing drop in on a Monday morning where people can talk about their feelings and how they are doing .

“On Tuesday afternoons we have our Tuesday treat which lately has been a quiz which they love. Otherwise it could be bingo, something educational or guests dropping in.

“Sheffield is blessed with great sports and physical activity but the people who wouldn’t normally engage in that have joined us for the online stuff and we have now started people saying ‘I’ve never one anything like this before but I will come back to a face to face session when all this is over’ – because they have built their confidence and feel healthier from joining the online sessions.”

Cancer patient Claire Molyneux who has been taking part in the project said: “Because it is for people with cancer on the whole made me feel I would be able to do this and be with similar people, especially as so many of the other services haven't been available. Its given me the confidence to do any kind of exercise. It's made me want to do more, as before I wouldn't have done anything.

“I like having a structure and that's something I miss in my day. Because I'm shielding I could so easily just sit in bed all day long.

“Everyone was so friendly. It's been great for exercise friendship, bringing structure to your day, something to look forward to. It shows there is support out there which has been lacking during covid and you need it more when you are shielding particularly. I really appreciated all of it.”

“Some people struggle with things - particularly using a piece of technology but they are patient with people and kindly

"I think it is a really nice feel and vibe in the group – it's lovely.

"Even though its on Zoom everybody is starting to get to know each other.”

If you or any of your family or friends would like one of the care packages or needs additional support, email [email protected]