Thank Goodness it’s Fresh Air Friday!

19th December 2019

TGIF! I can’t count how many times I’ve uttered that phrase over the years, or had it said to me. The stresses and strains of the working week have often taken a toll on me and my colleagues with only the weekend bringing a brief respite.

These days, as a director of BPI Consultancy; a B2B training organisation, I have to balance the demands of running a business and a busy home life whilst advising my clients on managing occupational health and wellbeing.

Earlier this year I came across the concept of Fresh Air Fridays but I wasn’t sure about how the concept would work in practice. So when Chwarae Teg invited me to one of their Hive networking events entitled Fresh Air for Business I was quick to sign up.

It was a slightly damp but fine Friday when a group of us, from both the public and private sectors, gathered at the SWALEC Stadium and met Leah Sian Davies, the local Fresh Air Friday facilitator.

After a brief orientation we donned our coats and headed for nearby Bute Park. Leah broke our walk, which was a paced to suit all abilities, into stages. We started with taking a few moments to stop and breathe, beginning to attune ourselves to our surroundings. Then we walked in silence, concentrating on the sounds, smells, textures and sights around us. This was interesting, as although I often walk to work along the Cynon Trail, I’m usually thinking about my day and not my surroundings.

Then Leah asked us to pair up and tell the other person the things that we liked to do for ourselves, the things we enjoyed, the things that made us feel good even if we didn’t manage to do them as often as we would like to. The only rules were that we couldn’t use phrases like “I should do more of….”. Our partner was just supposed to listen and not say anything, just let us talk until we swapped and it was their turn.

I think we all found this much harder than it sounded and for a variety of reasons. For me it was a combination of not usually thinking and talking about myself without feedback and interjection from the other party.

In fact, so difficult did I find it to think and talk about myself (and anyone that knows me will tell you what a good talker I usually am) that it was only when we got to the end of the walk that I realised that I had completely forgotten about the one thing that I used to enjoy doing more than anything else, duh!

When the roles were reversed it was also very difficult to make a silent space to let the other person talk about themselves without making any comment or offering a view. Thankfully the next step, from Leah, was to continue walking while discussing what we had just revealed about ourselves and learned about our walking partner.

Our last outdoor experience was to think about the changes we could make to facilitate us being able to do more of what we enjoyed, maybe the one thing we could ask someone else to do that would help us, and then finally to stop and reflect on our experience, repeat those breathing exercises.

Back at the Stadium, over a warming coffee and pastry, we had the chance to discuss as a group how we felt about the experience as a whole and how we felt that we could implement the some or all of the experience into our organisations. I particularly liked hearing about what the other participants were already doing in their workplace. In fact, we’ve already implemented one idea (Peaks and Pits) into our Friday afternoon ritual.

In summary I think we all found it a very positive experience. It was very interesting to realise how hard it is not only to make time for your own wellbeing, but to even talk about it. I can see how this programme will help reduce stress and build resilience, which will have an impact not just on work life but also home life too.

Whilst I appreciate that some of my clients in certain sectors will struggle to implement this type of activity, I would argue that with some innovative thinking they might find it has a marked impact on their organisation, reducing stress, absenteeism and presenteeism. I would certainly recommend taking a look at Fresh Air Fridays and my organisation will be looking to move forward on this in the New Year. Personally I’m looking forward to what Hive will be doing next.

Good by TGIF, hello TGIFAF!

19th Dec 2019