The fact that his Uncle Michael died suddenly of a heart attack the day after his 45th birthday in August 2012 made Laurence Bellew think hard about health. When he read that obesity and mental health are the two biggest problems facing children on the island of Ireland he decided to do something about it.
Laurence, who is Kids & Youth Co–ordinator for Willowfield Parish Community Association, has developed Life Guards which aims to tackle both problems head on. It takes a holistic approach, teaching children how emotional health and physical health are connected. In the way that lifeguards have the skills to save other people’s lives, the Life Guardsprogramme aims to teach children the skills to save their own lives. Laurence is currently delivering the programme in schools. Over 6000 kids from 44 schools across Belfast and even as far as Ballymena and Larne have now completed the schools programme. The team also regularly deliver shorter programmes in church and community groups across the province.
“My interest in mental health is because my uncle also suffered from bipolar disorder which my Mum also suffers from. This meant I spent a lot of time in foster care while at Secondary School.”
“As well as sharing some of these experiences and the importance of speaking up when you’re stressed or struggling, I tell the kids about my own battle with putting on weight after I stopped playing football land how I have since changed my lifestyle. I’m now a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer.”
Laurence continues: “Throughout the 6/8 week programme, we discuss topics like exercise, nutrition, setting targets, not being afraid of failure, dreaming big and working hard. As part of the programme we also take four 1 hour or six half an hour fitness lessons with each individual class and there are awards for the top boy and top girl as well as the most improved or best attitude. There’s also a competition between classes for the fittest class in each school.”
Each child who completes the programme gets a certificate, water bottle, a stress ball key ring in the shape of a heart as well as a 24 page booklet.
This year the trophy for the fittest school was presented to Cairnshill Primary School. They were presented with the ‘Michael Rice Memorial Cup’.
Contact Laurence if you’d like to find out more about the ‘Life Guards’ programme at firstname.lastname@example.org
Have you heard about the latest Life Guards challenge – NoLimits? Click below for more info or to download a GiftAid form if you have already donated!
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Laurence, Luke, and Jonny all completed the No Limits Challenge. Watch their journey below: