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By Humera Khan, founder, director and CEO of Happy Healthy You.

In a land not that far away, there was a young lady who was not in the best of places physically and mentally. On the outside things did not look that bad but the young lady was dealing with her demons. This came to light during a routine visit to the doctor’s surgery, where the doctor asked her to stand on a weigh scale and asked, “What happened?”.

This young lady was me, and this question started me on my journey to becoming a fitness instructor. I was medically obese at the time, had gone through major surgery, and had struggled with my confidence and mental wellbeing. At my lowest moment and against all the odds, I became a fitness instructor, knowing I wanted to change my own life as well as others. This was part of my journey of showing kindness to myself firstly and then extending it to others across the community – more on that later….

Fast forward a few years, I started my own community organisation called Happy Healthy You, where I am the programme co-founder, director and CEO.

I am extremely proud to say that within a year, Happy Healthy You won three local awards which were the Bradford Sports Award and the NHS Living Well Award, all around improving health in people and places. We also won the ITV National Diversity Award, which had 90,000 nominations and votes and recently I won the T&A Shared Values award and Bradford4better’s exceptional contribution to ‘Bradford’s healthcare’. I was also proud to receive the award for Bradford’s Most Influential 2023 (Asian Standard News).

How did I get there?

I’ve been working in the community sector for over 18 years and have seen first-hand how health inequalities in the inner-city areas of Bradford adversely affect, not only a person’s physical and mental health but also their families and communities they reside in. This built my appetite for working within the community, with people on the ground, with the aim of helping to improve lives. After graduating, I worked with refugees and asylum seekers, within community health and the environment.

These experiences helped me understand the situation in some of our more deprived areas and the desperate need to help reduce some of the health inequalities in these communities. It also showed me the importance of having trusted relationships within the communities to help make a real impact.

The pandemic days

At the start of the pandemic, I started an online platform, with a fellow colleague, knowing we had to help people in these extraordinary and difficult times (this is about showing kindness to others) and developed an online fitness platform.

We learnt how important relationships are (already established through our previous engagement work), which created the initial momentum of numbers joining us online. From there, it was word of mouth, people telling people, that helped Happy, Healthy You thrive. After communities experienced a class, they told their friends and families, which was the most popular method for advertising our service. Furthermore, Whatsapp messages and reminder messages also supported people to make these sessions a weekly habit.

We have ample messages that also describe how people created strong bonds with the teachers, even though sessions were online. Communities found them to be approachable, encouraging, sessions that suited all, and very interactive. This was a real lifeline for communities during an extremely isolating time, when we were bound by COVID restrictions.

Fast forward to now…

We now have developed into a ‘mind, body and soul’ organisation, offering 20+ classes a week across Bradford inner city areas, both online and face to face. Our principle is to reach those who are struggling with their own health through innovative ways such as providing sessions in faith groups, schools, centres, libraries, online etc, where health activities are not the norm. These are places located in the heart of our communities, making it easy for people to access but also in places where they feel comfortable. We have also partnered up with the Rethinking Pain programme, a community programme endorsed by the NHS.

Our vision is for ‘Bradford to be a model where people are empowered to look after their own physical and mental wellbeing to deal with all the challenges of everyday life – this can be used to go beyond Bradford once established.’

In the early days of Healthy, Happy You, a male colleague and I really wanted to work with mosques. We asked many at the time, offering free sessions as volunteers, and it took nearly a year for one of the mosques to say ‘yes’. We are now working with 12 mosques, and this continues to grow, with some now approaching us due to our reputation and the trusted relationships we have built. Two of the mosques have won awards.

A Rohingya asylum seeker attended our early online sessions and asked if we needed help with a poster to promote our services, which we greatly appreciated and needed. He now volunteers as our communication worker (a Godsend), has started his own Rohingya Men’s football group, has attended ‘walk leaders training’ and organises walks for his community. He is an advocate for Happy Healthy You and volunteers with our delivery of the ‘Rethinking Pain’ programme.

Our success with the two examples above is mainly down to relationships we have created with both partners and communities and investing in these relationships. Although we are all qualified in our related fields, we have people in our team that are from these communities or have lived experience, who are carrying out work on the ground.

Fellowship of the RIC (no, not the Ring 😊)

I have recently completed a Research Fellowship through the ‘Improving Population Health Fellowship Programme’ in the NHS. This is focused on the importance of local role models and grassroot organisations, that are often missed, but are doing significant work in the community. My fellowship has included finding ways to support these organisations, and thinking about how we identify and encourage even more key local people to follow careers that contribute to reducing health inequalities in their own area. I have learnt so from this fellowship and had a chance to meet many inspiring people, igniting a further passion to be an advocate for the those engaging in the heart of the community.

My fellowship paper was based on independent population health specialist Professor Chris Bentley’s ‘No-Man’s Land’ theory, which describes the group of people in between ‘Intervention through services’ and ‘Intervention through Communities’ who are the bridge between the two and my paper very much supported this theory. I further explored the importance of lived experience from people within these communities, and how this can help reduce health inequalities locally.

The future…

We’ve created a strong foundation to build on supporting our local communities (showing kindness to others) and we know there’s still lots to do and welcome you to join our mission… Please contact humera@happyhealthyyou.org.uk and follow us on Facebook.

View more inequalities blogs below or on our Reducing Inequalities Alliance webpage. To write a blog about inequalities work you’re involved in, please email ria@bradford.nhs.uk

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