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Working together for a healthy city

Businesses across Sunderland are boosting the health and wellbeing of their staff by signing up to the Workplace Health Alliance.

The Alliance is a multi-agency partnership between Sunderland City Council, local businesses, the NHS and the voluntary and community sector, which work collaboratively to improve health and wellbeing in workplaces across the city. It offers support on matters such as healthy eating, fitness programmes and holds peer group meetings where companies can share their experiences and hear best practice.

The alliance is open to companies of all sizes, but particularly welcomes interest from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Designed to be easily accessible, companies can get support as it suits them. This could be attending workforce alliance meetings for information, signing the workplace health charter and committing to an action plan with bespoke support, or applying for the Better Health at Work award.

Southwick-based Clearly Drinks, which employs around 80 people in Sunderland, is one of the businesses taking part. Since joining in early 2019 it has launched a range of staff initiatives including a cycle to work scheme and on-site exercise classes.

Mick Howard, CEO of Clearly Drinks, said: "We are a medium sized company and pride ourselves on the fact that everyone is an individual, not a name or a number.

"Prioritising health and wellbeing has helped staff feel more valued. Since putting these changes in place, not only have we have had some really positive feedback from employees, but our absence rate has fallen to 1.4%, with no long-term absences."

As well as physical health, businesses are able to access support to help staff with mental health and wellbeing.

Mick explained: "Eight of our employees have either completed or are taking mental health training to support their colleagues, and introducing a cycle to work scheme has been an important initiative in helping to improve physical and mental health.

"Cycling is great for reducing the risk of heart disease and to help aid weight loss but can also dramatically improve mental wellbeing. This is evidenced in our low 1.4% absence rate.

"We have found that keeping health and wellness at the top of our employee support agenda helps to keep absence low and helps staff feel more valued, supporting our journey towards being a workplace of choice."

Ralph Saelzer, chair of the Sunderland Workplace Health (WPH) Alliance, said: "It is encouraging that we have seen a significant increase of membership, interest and participation from workplaces across Sunderland.

"Since 2018 there has been a 203% increase in workplaces joining the WPH Alliance and we expect to see this grow further. The WPH Alliance will continue to work closely with workplaces to ensure it is addressing health and wellbeing while supporting sustainable business in the city."

Sunderland City Council's Cabinet Member for Healthy City, Councillor Kelly Chequer, said: "Making Sunderland a healthy city is one of this council's key priorities, and the workplace health alliance is another important step in the right direction.

"It is encouraging to see SMEs making the most of the support available and taking preventative measures to help their employees avoid illness. By working alongside Sunderland businesses, we can improve overall health in the city and begin to reduce health inequalities."

Ken Bremner is Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, and Chair of the City Board which brings together key anchor organisations across the city. He said: "The Workplace Health Alliance is a key component of the City's Healthy Economy plan, which advocates good employment by promoting the health of employees and enabling businesses to consider preventative and proactive approaches to look after the wellbeing of their staff. This in return supports a proactive and productive workforce with good health and wellbeing, which is key to driving economic growth in the city."

Sunderland Workplace Health Alliance annual practice sharing event is taking place online on Wednesday 24 March between 9:30 - 12:30. The event will focus on ways workplaces can emerge healthier and stronger from the pandemic to build a sustainable base for the years ahead.

To register for the practice sharing event, click here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sunderland-workplace-health-practice-sharing-event-tickets-140829828809