Mariette Van Der Kolk and Ernie Atkinson are regulars at Saltash Leisure Centre.

At 71 and 83 respectively, they are both on the centre’s Healthwise scheme, a physical activity programme designed to keep them healthy. They live in Saltash and neither has frequented a gym much in the past.

Mariette has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that has been with her most of her life. Last year both her hips needed replacing and it was recovering from those operations that got her involved with Healthwise.

“I was referred to Steve Fenney, the Healthwise Facilitator at Saltash,” she said. “He got me doing gentle workouts in the gym which have made a big difference. I was hesitant at first but have learnt to listen to the advice I’m given and exercise at a pace that is right for me. 

“Making new friends has been another bonus. One of them is a lady who’s also had her hips done so we call ourselves ‘the hipsters’. 

“The centre is clean, friendly and welcoming. I enjoy going there and know it’s doing me good in more ways than one.”

Widower and retired electrician Ernie Atkinson has always been a keen walker, but balance problems led to a Healthwise referral from his physiotherapist.

“Going to the gym makes me feel better,” he said. “I come twice a week and swim when I can. My son Matt has a bad back, so I encouraged him to come along, and he’s now got a Healthwise referral as well.”

Saltash Leisure Centre is run by GLL, a not-for-profit social enterprise and workers’ cooperative that operates eight other leisure centres in Cornwall on behalf of the council. Health professionals can refer patients to the Healthwise programme to help prevent, manage or improve a wide range of health conditions and Saltash Leisure Centre and Saltash Health Centre have been working together to spread the Healthwise word.

The comprehensive 12-week programme features one-to-one assessment and individual activity plans.

“Seeing people like Mariette and Ernie build their confidence and core strength is hugely rewarding,” said Steve Fenney, Healthwise Facilitator. 

“When Ernie got in the pool, for example, he could only manage a breaststroke but, by the end of that first session, he was doing a proper front crawl.

“Patients can ask their GP or other health professional to refer them, and I’d really encourage them to do so. 

“I’ve been working closely with Valerie Taplin, a member of the Saltash Health Centre Patient Participation Group, and would like to thank her for all the work she and the group are doing to raise local awareness.

“As Mariette and Ernie are proving, the Healthwise programme really does work wonders.”

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