The founder of a “unique” Congleton charity with national aspirations has spoken about the importance of combining physical and mental health.
Vicky Willis, who set up Bridging the Gap at the beginning of 2020, found that there was a gap in service provision for people who struggled with mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Through her work at the Crossfit Fierce Spirit gym, on Thomas Street, she wanted to demonstrate that exercise could have a positive effect on mental wellbeing and now has plans to expand the charity so that as many people as possible can benefit.
With gym manager Andy Ridge, Miss Willis has helped numerous clients in an area she explained could often be overlooked.
She has experience of mental health issues, having struggled with anxiety when she was recovering from an operation on her ankle.
“If you have a physical injury, you can go to a physiotherapist. But where do you go to look after your mental health? When I looked into the help that was on offer, there was just nothing,” explained Miss Willis.
“Bridging the Gap is about catching people before they end up so poorly that they need medical intervention.”
The service begins with a questionnaire to assess the needs of the client and whether the charity would be able to provide adequate support. It then chooses a physical therapy provider, before being matched with the most appropriate counsellor.
Miss Willis said: “If you’re incredibly anxious or depressed, you’re not going to take yourself to the gym for a workout, which is why we arrange the physical therapy sessions. It is unique.
“We work with a number of different physical therapy providers, because one size doesn’t fit all. Some people want to do weight training, others want to do a boot camp.
“We combine the counselling with physical therapy because exercise is a really good long-term way to deal with mental health issues.
“The NHS guidelines have been updated to officially recommend exercise to people with mental health issues as a prescriptive avenue for doctors, before immediately prescribing medication.”
Swans CIC, a Congleton-based counselling service, works with the charity to provide mental health support.
Traditional funding sources can often be difficult to secure, according to Miss Willis.
She said: “It’s really tricky to get hold of funding. Our programmes are effective, even though on the surface they appear to be quite expensive.
“But the results justify the cost, and I can’t put into words how amazing some of the outcomes that we have had are. There is one testimonial that I can’t read without crying. It is so rewarding to see people going from being super anxious to entirely different.”
She added: “I’m hoping that over the next few years, we will be able to take it to a national level and Bridging the Gap will be funded by the NHS.”
Congleton estate agency Timothy A Brown is among those that have supported the charity in its early years.
Director Tom Brown, who trains at the gym on Thomas Street, said: “Because it’s a local charity that always needs more funding, we as a company want to support it. We also want more people in Congleton to be aware of this great charity. It is limited on funds, but it has plans to expand.
“We hope to continue to forge this relationship with Bridging the Gap, help to promote it and make more people aware of it.”