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Life Guards

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 Children’s Work Co–ordinator for Willowfield Parish Community Association, has developed Life Guards, a programme funded by Heart Research UK 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 Guards programme aims to teach children the skills to save their own lives. Laurence is currently delivering the programme in schools. Over 1800 kids in 18 schools across Belfast and Antrim have now completed the programme.

“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 and how I have since changed my lifestyle. I’m now a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer.” 

Laurence interviewed 3 local sports stars for a video and introduces Jordan Caldwell, an 18 year old who has overcome anorexia. He tells the kids about his struggle and how not eating is also really bad for your heart.

Laurence continues: “Throughout the 6 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 I also take four 1 hour long 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 in the shape of a heart as well as a 16 page booklet.

This year the trophy for the fittest school was presented to Lough View Integrated Primary School. They were presented with the ‘Michael Rice Memorial Cup’ as well as playground equipment for their school.

Contact Laurence if you’d like to find out more about the ‘Life Guards’ programme at laurence@wpcabelfast.co.uk

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