Path to fitness starts with a single step

Stow College believes keeping active is not just for the young and encourages staff to dance, run or climb an urban munro

Raymond Ross

It may seem a hillwalker's dream but at Stow College in Glasgow it is possible to climb a munro without ever getting wet, lost in the mist or eaten alive by midges. Mind you, the view's not quite the same.

As part of the college's award-winning Healthy Working Lives programme, staff are encouraged to walk up the five-floor building once a day. If you do that every day for a year, you clock up the required 3,000 feet and could claim (in a virtual sense, at least) to have bagged Scotland's first urban munro.

The staff at Stow College get up to a lot of daft activities in pursuit of health and wellbeing. There's bunjee running, for example, where you are strapped into a harness and run as far and as fast as you can until, inevitably, the harness draws you back to where you began. Then you try and try again.

If you fancy going back to your childhood, as some of the college staff clearly do, then you can compete in traditional sports day novelty races - in a sack, with an egg and spoon or with a skipping rope.

There are also dance classes - salsa, ceroc (French jive) and ballroom - five-aside football competitions, golf tournaments, canal walks, a cycling trip to Balloch 25 miles away and, for the truly dedicated, hillwalking and climbing trips to the Highlands, where you can experience for real the rain, the mist and the midges.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Stow College has been named as one of Scotland's healthiest workplaces after receiving the Healthy Working Lives gold award - and not for the first time.

Ten years ago, when the staff programme was started, Stow became the first college in Scotland to receive the gold award of the NHS Scotland initiative designed to promote healthier and safer workplaces, in recognition of its efforts to improve the health and well-being of staff (and students).

"Receiving the gold award for a second time is a recognition of the emphasis we place on the health and wellbeing of our staff," says Audrey Miller, the college's assistant principal, who is in charge of the programme.

"Taking part in the programme has resulted in increased staff morale, increased awareness of health issues, increased participation in physical activity, the ability to tackle stress-related problems better and a more motivated staff body who can act as role models for our students," she says.

Most of the 330 teaching and support staff take part in the planned activities, which are organised by a voluntary committee and mostly led by volunteer staff.

"It's about valuing people, about valuing your staff, which is central to college strategy," says Robert McGrory, the principal. "It's about creating an environment which encourages people to be positive and which looks after them.

"From an organisational point of view, if you show that you value staff, then they will return the value you invest in them," he says.

The Healthy Lives programme brings together staff who might not normally meet in the course of a working day and the social aspect of it should not be undervalued, says Jean Stevenson, the human resources manager. "It's a great way of bringing people together.

"Every year we have a development day with taster sessions. We then run blocks of four to eight weekly classes, according to demand. And for everyone involved, it's fun. If it wasn't fun, I don't think any of us would be doing it," she says.

But the programme is serious fun. An emphasis on healthy eating at a development day some five years ago led to catering staff taking the initiative and the canteen provides healthy-eating options now as a matter of course. In fact, every development day begins with a healthy breakfast.

Staff are now generally more aware of health matters and make more use of the college's occupational health nurse. In the new year the programme is going to focus on mental-health issues. "Section leaders and line managers will be trained in mental-health awareness and how to provide help and support," says Miss Stevenson.

"The programme is about social and psychological wellbeing as well as about physical health, and since its inception it has been about more than just attracting so-called gym rats," she says.

"We have manicure sessions, flower-arranging workshops, film evenings, massage classes, gallery visits and open-top bus tours, to name a few of the less strenuous activities. It's about body and soul."


Nick Wojciechowski, section leader of management and general education, is a volunteer leader of t'ai chi sessions for the college staff.

"T'ai chi is about body and soul," he says. "It relaxes and energises. It tones muscles, helps with concentration and balance and builds mental and physical confidence. It makes people more bodily aware and it builds stamina.

"It's great to teach and rewarding to watch people coming on. It's as good as gym training if you commit to it and it helps with your flexibility and fitness.

"The sessions are a great way of bringing staff together and a pleasure to teach. I hope they will become part of the mental-health focus in the new year.

"One great thing about it is that you can practise it anywhere, at home, outside or in your office. You don't need much space or special clothes and it doesn't make you hot and sweaty, although it does energise you. It suits both sexes and all ages and would fit into any college programme like ours."

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Raymond Ross

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