It’s a wonderful life
Last year Neil Gowing, a postie from Bury in Lancashire, founded The Wonderful Life Academy.
A charity, its objective is to support the wellbeing of frontline and key workers. Zoe Walker hears more from Neil on how he does just that.
Can you explain what the Wonderful Life Academy is and what it does?
Our primary objective is to provide free wellbeing coaching for frontline and key workers. This includes NHS staff, emergency services, retail workers, carers, public service workers, teachers, support workers, transport workers, postal workers etc. We do this by providing group workshops in person and online using proven coaching and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques. We have a total of nine coaches - five in the North West, and coaches in Bournemouth, Kent, Cheshire and Scotland.
How did you come to set up the Wonderful Life Academy?
I trained as a life coach and NLP practitioner around five years ago and felt that everyone could live a healthier, happier life using some of the things that I had learned. I focused my coaching activities on wellbeing and wrote a book (It’s A Wonderful Life) to try and get the ideas out to more people. I then began running workshops with the content from my book. In 2019, I recruited two other coaches to run the workshops too. As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in early 2020, I decided to focus our efforts on wellbeing coaching for frontline and key workers and establish us as a charity.
How many people are involved with the Wonderful Life Academy?
We have nine coaches, three trustees and 20 volunteers. We currently have around 200 people (members) using our services either in groups or online.
What are the Academy’s objectives?
Our charitable objectives, as outlined in our constitution, are: to preserve and protect the health and wellbeing of - in particular, but not exclusively - frontline workers in the UK by providing workshops and coaching sessions with wellbeing coaches and access to online content designed to promote a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing. We have a goal of helping one million people to improve their wellbeing!
You are offering free wellbeing coaching to your fellow postal workers – what does this involve? And how can colleagues sign up?
Postal workers can contact us individually via the website to join a workshop or individual offices or departments could sign up their teams for their own workshop. When we sign up any individuals as members, they get access to all of our online content for free and access to any of our online group sessions that run on a weekly basis. They can then choose to just use the online content themselves or attend group sessions as frequently as they like and benefit from the coaching.
Does most of the coaching take place online?
At the moment, yes. We are able to run face-to-face sessions in lockdown due to the wellbeing benefits, but these have been less frequent. The online sessions allow us to access beneficiaries across the whole country regardless of the location of our coaches.
How have you been affected by the pandemic?
The pandemic has in many ways shaped us as a charity. It certainly provided the focus to become a charity in 2020. The lockdown prevented us doing face-to-face sessions as frequently as we would like, but that encouraged us to develop our online activity and review all of our content to ensure it was relevant for online sessions.
We have continued to evolve as the pandemic has endured too. We now offer free coaching to anyone who has found themselves out of work due to Covid-19 as well as to armed forces veterans. Even one of our trustees falls into the category of unemployed due to Covid-19. We achieved a grant from the National Lottery for our work in reaction to Covid-19, which enabled us to recruit more coaches. That said, the biggest impact on the whole charity sector has been on funding. Funding is our biggest challenge now and for the foreseeable future.
How do you manage the Academy alongside your job as a postie – do the two jobs complement one another?
On most days I finish my duties as a postie mid-afternoon. I then work for a couple of hours to cover admin and applying for funding. I do coaching sessions mainly in the evenings, along with any training for new coaches. My day off is normally spent trying to raise funds or updating the website and social media. I always leave Sunday free for time with the family and/or watching football.
How do your colleagues in Bury feel about the Wonderful Life Academy?
It isn’t as high profile as I would like and many of the team don’t know a great deal about what we do. At our depot in Bury, we provided free washable/reusable facemasks to all workers to help protect each other against Covid-19 and that went down really well. There isn’t much time to spend talking about the charity during the working shift.
How did you get into mental health support work?
As already mentioned, I trained as a life coach and NLP practitioner a few years ago. I was working in retail management at the time and had always used coaching in my day-to-day leadership. I had suffered from severe depression for a while and wanted to use what I had learned to help others who were suffering the way I had.
What would you say are the main elements that are necessary for good mental health and wellbeing?
The important thing is to find a balance across your physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. Good mental health is similar to good physical health. You can’t just go to the gym and expect to be healthy. You have to balance exercise, sleep, nutrition, rest, etc. If you work on your mental health in the same way you are less likely to suffer from mental illness.
In your experience through your work with your charity, what are the top three challenges that people are facing in terms of mental health at the moment?
- Lack of social contact is key. We are social creatures and the benefits of social interaction can’t be underestimated. This is one of the reasons I started group sessions in the first place. This manifests itself as loneliness and can be a real trigger for depression.
- Missing family and friends, whilst similar to point one (social contact), is having a huge impact on the emotional wellbeing of people.
- Fear of the virus and more recently, fear of having the vaccination jab has been particularly prevalent amongst the elderly and vulnerable. Amongst key workers, including posties, fear of exposure to the virus due to our work has been a challenge.
What do you think are the specific challenges for posties at the moment?
Exposure to the virus through working on the frontline visiting hundreds of houses every day, touching gates, letter boxes etc. The workload due to increases in online shopping is a challenge, albeit good for the business, especially when sickness absence is high due to Covid. That said, the measures in place go a long way towards alleviating these challenges.
How should people contact you for support?
And what if they would like to help out with the Wonderful Life Academy?
Volunteers can also contact us via the website. As with most charities, fundraising is our biggest challenge as everything we do is dependent on funding. Donations can be made via Facebook, JustGiving and on the website too. Creating partnerships with businesses is one of our priorities so that we can provide wellbeing coaching for their teams and they can support our funding.