In September we ran our second community champions workshop, a citizen engagement programme dedicated to building community participation in the development of Manchester as a Smart City.

Here’s a blog by Megan, who led a health & fitness workshop to identify insights into how our community could be healthier in Manchester, and how technology could aid in its development.

My name is Megan, and I’m a Creative Expert. We’re a group of professional facilitators, performers and consultants who provide a number of services that can help businesses, providing fresh, innovative solutions to a range of creative problems and challenges.  I recently created and delivered a workshop called “Work Out Buddies” for FutureEverything as part of their CityVerve project.

The workshop was designed to look at how we can make fitness accessible to all and identify why people connect and disassociate in different areas and how we can broaden its appeal and change participants attitude to one of guilt and obligation to enjoyment.

Work Out Buddies included conversation, activities and skill sharing sections to create a comfortable dynamic of learning, researching, trying something new and passing something on. The session began with an introductory conversation identifying where the individuals in the group were currently at with their relationship to fitness and living active lifestyles. It covered the sort of activity they took part in (if any) and the reasons they engage and disengage with certain activities and approaches.

We then moved into a fitness section led by Hulme based fitness instructor Andrea DeSantos who led an aerobics section and a pilates style section of sustained stretching, to try and offer different types of movement based activity for people to engage with.

After each section participants fed back communally so lots of new tips and ideas were continually discussed and passed around the room. We then attempted to conduct a scavenger hunt activity, the purpose of which was to test how people responded to getting outdoors, exploring their neighbourhood and the concept of goal orientated or gaming style fitness. I had hidden shiny stars on two different 20 minute routes around the local neighbourhood, each with different actions such as “50 star jumps” to perform.

Introducing the Smart City initiatives through experiences.

The concept of the workshop was to create a manual version of the BeeActive App, with participants texting back to “base” (me) to get the pin drop/postcode of their next location and using the mapping device on their phone to find the next clue. Unfortunately it was very dark and rainy by the time we got out and one phone was sending participants in circles so we decided to halt the exercise mid way through, but participants had gotten to grips with the idea of the app and we had a chance to assess how people responded to this type of activity.

As those familiar with CityVerve will probably be able to identify, the workshop was based around the themes of health and social care, the community wellness platform, local communities and improving physical well being through active lifestyles. By encouraging people to get to know one another and associate fitness with connecting with others and being a part of a group and creating new communities, we also looked at combatting social isolation. As outlined in the final exercise I was specifically laying groundwork to measure participant responses to the idea of technology supporting health & fitness.

We were lucky enough to have highly engaged, highly diverse group of participants. The ages spanned from early twenties to early 70’s and everyone had something to both learn and teach which was incredibly inspiring to see. It was great to see perceptions around fitness being challenged and watch people from different generations, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds, connect, get to know one another and pass on ideas and advice.

CityVerve aims to introduce healthier lifestyles through Smart Technology

Lots of fantastic discussion took place regarding fitness and personal motivation, mental health and well being, moving the conversation away from using exercise as a way to alter your body and more towards something which can have a positive impact of emotional well being and personal motivation.

We also discussed Manchester a lot and exploring the city on foot, finding green spaces and the importance of fresh air on skin. The session was very much based on personal opinion and experience, and all participants were really vocal and giving. The fact we had a real range of voices in the room meant we had a wonderful range of insights, particularly into the way technology can be utilised with fitness and how this could be approached so as to include the elderly or those with injuries.

There was a great discussion about including causation into apps so this can shape how they realign rather than re-set- for example, one of the participants pointed out that if you stop using most fitness apps for a while they continually prompt you and then re-set you to the beginning, without showing much care as to why you stopped.

The session seemed to successfully disseminate awareness of CityVerve as a project and garner really valuable feedback regarding people’s attitudes to fitness, exercising outside, exploring their local areas and using technology to aid this. It felt like different individuals and communities enjoyed connecting with people they would never usually socialise with and that this may be a draw to future fitness initiatives- doing something totally different to usual and making being active a social rather than solitary activity.

CityVerve’s Health and Wellbeing initiative is using technology to create community wellness. The BeeActive app is designed for those within Manchester’s Oxford Road corridor, and can be found on the app store.