As a health and wellbeing officer with Active Communities Scotland, Karen Campbell provides opportunities for people in a deprived area of Paisley to engage in sport and physical activity.
Karen, a true champion of inclusion, is also a local community activist who goes above and beyond to look out for people in her Ferguslie Park community.
Throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Karen has worked tirelessly to ensure everyone in her community was safe and not only had the essentials they needed but also had someone to talk to.
When lockdown began to lift in the middle of 2020, enabling a partial return to participation, Karen supported the Care2B Active project by helping up set up pop-up sports days, silent discos and Positivity 5k walks for care-experienced young people aged 10 to 18.
Care2B Active is one of 17 projects to benefit from the Changing Lives Through Sport and Physical Activity programme, which is jointly funded by sportscotland, The Robertson Trust, Spirit of 2012 and Scottish Government with the aim of changing lives and creating a more inclusive and healthier nation.
Karen has also set up outdoor fitness classes for adults in her community, enabling people to experience the life-changing benefits of sport and physical activity.
We invited Karen to tell her story.
What is your job title and how long have you been in this role?
I’m community health and wellbeing officer at Active Communities Scotland and I’ve been in this role since September 2019.
Do you have a background in sport or physical activity or was this your first involvement?
I have always played various sports through my involvement in youth work over the years, but never anything serious.
Since working at Active Communities I have had the opportunity to be involved in more sports activities through partnership working with Care2B Active and getting involved with Girls on the Run, walking groups, football and circuit fitness in the park during COVID-19.
What does your work in this role normally entail, in more settled times?
I am responsible for setting up groups in Ferguslie Park, encouraging those furthest removed to engage and attend – organising women’s and men's groups, youth activities, volunteer recruitment and training.
And how have you adapted the services you provide in 2020?
Being outdoors has been a great advantage to Active Communities, being able to offer outdoor exercise classes, walking groups, silent discos, football – these are just some of the activities we have been able to provide safely. We also have been distributing food and activity packs throughout the pandemic to those isolating and lonely.
How important is physical activity at a time like this?
Keeping active is very important at a time like this, giving people the opportunity to take part in sports and fitness when other organisations have closed due to the pandemic.
Having access to our public parks has been a great advantage, being able to provide classes when people are at their lowest.
Mental health is something Active Communities strongly supports and through our referral process we can encourage residents to join our walking groups and take part in activities during these difficult times.
How have the people in your community responded to the opportunities provided?
Our groups have been greatly engaged, especially in our youth activities. We have seen people attend who normally wouldn't engage but the pandemic, and having fewer choices, has encouraged more people to take part.
It’s very difficult to plan ahead in this situation, but do you have any specific plans for 2021?
The uncertainty is difficult for everyone – we’re unsure if buildings will be back in use – but always having a back-up is important and we’re looking at activities that can be provided outdoors weather-dependent.
Active Communities have exciting times ahead with the opening of our new Community Hub later in the new year, a community space providing sports, cooking, training, and lots more.
Who do you see as the champions of the pandemic, in a sport and physical activity context?
I think our youth team have been amazing, encouraging young people to stay active while being off school. My colleague Tina Hodge has been a great champion in our area, providing continuous sports activities from the beginning, being out in all weathers and never letting the kids down.
Having a great team at Active Communities we have been able to provide online fitness classes via YouTube for those unable to get out, providing and delivering the recourses for people to take part at home.
So, I would say everyone in our organisation has been able to provide vital services to our communities through these difficult times – true champions.
Tributes to Karen
Susan McDonald, Active Communities CEO, said: “Karen has been a real inspiration to her local community during COVID-19. She has continued to find fun and innovative ways to engage with young people during lockdown when many felt lonely and isolated.
“She has been a continual support in her community and is the ‘go-to’ person in Ferguslie! I am proud to have her as part of the Active Communities team.”
Tina Hodge, Active Communities youth development worker, added: “During the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen Karen Campbell become our very own COVID champion.
“Karen always goes above and beyond to ensure the young people in her community are supported, have fun and are active in whatever way suits them.
“Karen also runs and volunteers with a charity called Pals of the Prives. This group do amazing things within the community. During the pandemic this charity became a lifeline for many who were shielding. Karen ensured everyone had all their essentials delivered and that no one was ever alone or forgotten.
“Karen is an asset to our Active Communities team and it never fails to amaze us how kind and compassionate she is about her community.”