He's got stress relief at his fingertips

21st March 2003 at 00:00
A former head has opted out of school, but he's still giving staff a boost through massage. Janet Murray reports

Steve Nuthall would be the first to admit that teaching can be stressful: he was a primary head for more than 20 years. But a change of career has allowed him to take a hands-on approach to stress management in schools.

"I'm passionate about education," says the 55-year-old former head of Lofthouse Gate school in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. "But after 25 years in teaching, I felt I was losing a bit of my sparkle. I realised it was time to see what else was out there. At the end of a busy term, I'd reward myself with a massage. One day I thought, I'd like to have a go at it. It was very spontaneous."

He took an 18-month distance-learning course in remedial massage, primarily used in the treatment of painful conditions or injuries involving soft tissue and ligaments. Since 1997, he has been a self-employed remedial massage therapist. He treats a variety of complaints, including sports injuries and work-related problems such as repetitive strain injury. An initial investment in a portable massage chair means he can take his services on the road, offering pressure massages that help to alleviate symptoms of stress, such as muscle tension in the neck and shoulders.

He's in demand with local businesses, but some of his most enthusiastic clients are schools. He has maintained strong links with Wakefield primaries, both as a governor and through his massage work. Many of the patients he treats at home are teachers, and he also visits schools with his massage chair, including Castle Grove infants, near Wakefield, where he is chair of governors. Headteacher Susan Taylor regularly vacates her office to accommodate him. Treatments start at around pound;15 for 20 minutes and teachers say it's worth every penny.

Support teacher Barbara Jackson treats herself to a chair massage every month. "It's definitely money well spent," she says. "Teaching can be such a stressful job and children can be so exhausting. Having a massage is therapeutic and I like to think it's a preventive measure against future problems such as back or neck trouble."

During a chair massage, patients are fully clothed, sitting in a comfortable position, while Mr Nuthall works on their back, arms, neck and shoulders. He plays Gregorian chants to create a relaxing atmosphere.

Ms Taylor says her staff benefit from having him around. "He's supportive and encouraging towards teachers, which makes them feel valued. I'm very much concerned with the well-being of my staff and massage is part of that, so I'm happy to help in any way I can."

Some heads have taken this a step further, booking Mr Nuthall for Inset days on stress management and offering all staff a free or subsidised massage. "It's all about making teachers feel valued," explains Mr Nuthall.

"When I was a head, I worked on the maxim that if you look after your staff, they will look after the students. More heads are starting to think this way."

And it's not just teachers who benefit. Mr Nuthall is equally keen for children to learn about massage, and is working with Castle Grove and another local primary, Mackie Hill, to promote positive touch. Inspired by the work of the Association of Massage in Schools, he delivers a programme that educates staff, parents and children about positive touch through massage. After an initial consultation with parents, he demonstrates basic massage techniques on a teacher, so the children learn and use them on one another.

According to Victoria Palmer, a Year 3 teacher at Mackie Hill, behaviour is improving. "Steve's work has been excellent. It aims to teach children about appropriate touch and it's all based around permission. That's so important because every school has children who've had bad experiences with touch. We're finding the children calmer and less aggressive as a result."

Castle Grove has seen a dramatic change in playground behaviour. "At break time, the children are giving each other massages instead of knocking each other around," says Mr Nuthall. "I've changed career, but I'm still able to have a positive effect on education. That's very satisfying.

"I wanted a new career that would take me beyond retirement age and I wanted something that would be varied. To some extent, that is true of teaching - every day does throw up new challenges - but there is a predictability about knowing you'll be in the same place at the same time every single week."

Life as a massage therapist is certainly diverse. "I often find I'm working somewhere different every day," he says. "It's so refreshing. Getting out and about and meeting different people gives you a real sense of freedom."

Contact Steve Nuthall at sjnuthall@yahoo.co.uk; tel: 01924 255605

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