How to beat the bulge

By Taimia Nomani, Humanjit Singh, Nikhita Patel and Symrun Samria   -  By Emma Bird

We live in Birmingham where obesity is at a really high rate and is constantly getting worse – apparently we’re one of the fattest cities in Europe!

We decided to target children and young people so that when they grow up they’d be less likely to get health problems. If you teach them at an early age – you can get them into good habits early.

But we wanted to show people that leading a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard work – it’s not about eating salad all the time.

We decided to work with three different primary schools and do a presentation and three different activities; a cooking workshop, a zumba workshop and a gardening workshop.

They were all our old primary schools so we felt like we already had a connection there and we could just build on our relationship with these schools. It was so weird going back – you weren’t treated like a pupil but more like a teacher, which was really nice.

The schools were really excited about us coming back as well. They liked the idea that an old pupil could return and do something for the school. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before and they were quite surprised.

Before the presentations we were really nervous but by time we got to the third school it just came so naturally. With the workshops it was quite hard to get the pupils' attention. It was quite a lot of responsibility actually.

But by the end of it we had adjusted our style so that they listened to us and they were really excited and enthusiastic about what we were teaching them.

We learned quite a lot from every class we took. At first we asked them questions but they wouldn’t put their hands up and would just talk over each other. What we learned was just to keep on trying different approaches to get them to answer the questions. Asking them ‘what do you think?’ and making it a bit more personal and trying to relate it to what they do in everyday lives.

The best bit was hearing the feedback from the kids. We went round the class asking them what they’d learned and everyone had learned something different. When you hear that they want you to come back again and know that they’ve enjoyed it and taken something away – that’s really satisfying.

The comments from the teachers were fantastic as well - they really valued what we did. One of the teachers was saying that we seemed really confident and we got the children really engaged. That was quite good because we were quite nervous when we went there at first. We didn’t know what it was going to be like or what to expect.

Doing Envision has been amazing and quite unlike anything we’ve done before. It gave us a platform to tackle an issue that we felt was important to us. We’d get advice on what was the best way to do it and then we'd do the work. It was quite important to have that support.

After the success with primary school workshops we decided to launch weekly cooking club at our school. The cookery club was so popular we had to start a waiting list! A lot of the girls want to eat healthier but they don’t know where to start. When they think of healthy they just think of carrot sticks and lettuce leaves and we wanted to change that. Healthy eating is about a balanced diet and we showed them how to do that in the cookery club.

The biggest difference going from the primary school to our own school was how much easier it was to control that age group. They actually listen to you so when you do a demonstration and they pay more attention.

We did get really stressed at times - we didn’t really realise how much planning it would take. We definitely made mistakes but we learned from them and overcame them. I think it really opened our eyes to what goes into putting a project like this together.

But I think we pulled it off because we worked so well as a team. We delegated jobs and we worked independently as well so when we came back together all the small jobs were done.

And we really learned how to communicate to different audiences because when we were speaking to the teachers we had to be professional and organised and then teaching the primary school kids and the older students at our school needed a different approach.