Challenge Self, Challenge City

Last night we gathered in a local public house near the hospital, a convenient meeting place for us all. Three nurses, one surgeon and two family members. We had called ourselves “Shake Them Bones”, a reference to the fact that nurses and surgeon work in the field of orthopaedics. It was our last chance to thrash out plans for our proposed challenge next weekend, to reach the summit of the three highest peaks in the United Kingdom. These are Ben Nevis in Scotland,1344 metres high; Scafell Pike, England 978 metres and Snowdon, Wales,1085 metres above sea level.

The event is nationally known as the Three Peak Challenge and usually attempted over 24 hours with the negotiation of the 450 miles drive between sites being an integral part of scheduling. However, the organisers of the event we are participating in are the British Heart Foundation (BHF). They use the event as a means of raising funds and also of encouraging more people to alter their life style, become fit and active and as result reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease. Their event is scheduled over 48 hours allowing people who might otherwise not consider it to feel that they can safely take part.

All team members live in or near Stoke on Trent, an industrial area in the midlands of England. It is locally known as The Potteries. Had you picked up your cups, saucers or plates anywhere in the UK some 30-40 years ago, chances are the trademark would have shown that they were produced in one of the “Five Towns” which have traditionally been described as making up Stoke on Trent. The Pottery industry locally is now very much on the decline, production been relocated in many cases abroad. With this and other economic misfortunes has come a decline in the prosperity of the area which goes beyond the material.

A recent joint report produced by two local authorities, Stoke on Trent City Council and NHS Stoke on Trent found, among other things, that the city is the 16th most deprived in England; that life expectancy for male and female are, respectively, 4 and 3 years below the national average; that circulatory, respiratory and cancer diseases make up 75% of the deaths in the city and that 30,000 suffer from mental illness yearly. In an act of what I can only describe as “mass siege mentality” Stoke on Trent was, until recently, known politically as “The Jewel in the Crown” of The British National Party (BNP) a political group eager to capitalise on social and personal despair and depression, finding a scapegoat for the nation’s ill in the immigrant population. This despite the fact that the ethnic inhabitants of the city, of whom I am one, are a relatively small percentage of the population.

A renewed willingness to take responsibility for it’s own misfortunes has meant the city looking for better answers. The report also highlighted actions being taken to improve the health and well being of the people of Stoke on Trent. It showed the reduction in problems such as teen pregnancies and a halving in the number of circulatory disease deaths over the last 5-10 years and proposed programs to tackle the other areas of concern in the future. Hazel Lyth, a former Councillor for Adult Social care, sports, leisure and culture, commenting in February on the report findings said:

“We know that the city faces many challenges, and this document baldly shows just how tough those challenges are. But it also shows the good work being done, and the extent of the work needed to help improve the quality of life for residents in the future.

“We and our partners are committed to doing everything we can to drive up health standards, but residents need to be committed to helping themselves too.”

As we sat around the table yesterday, ranging in age from 21 to 55 yrs, touched directly or indirectly by some of the issues of health which effect Stoke’s population, we demonstrated that eagerness to do just that. Planning to take part in the Three Peak Challenge has meant that we have all had to involve ourselves in getting out and training, looking after our own individual health and experiencing the benefit’s (and minor injuries) which come as a result while working as a team in our fund raising attempts.

Stoke on Trent lies on the outskirts of some of most amazing countryside as found in the Peak District National Park. Some of our team’s training has been done on the Roaches and on Hen Cloud. Offering scope for numerous outdoor pursuits from walking /rambling, rock climbing, cycling, the park stretches the ample distances between Staffordshire, large areas of Derbyshire, some of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, and even South and West Yorkshire. It has some of the most panoramic views on the English mainland. Flash, considered to be England’s highest village at 1514ft above sea level, is situated just outside Buxton, a market town known for it’s mineral waters, roman baths and opera house. The area is not only a national treasure but a resource which the citizens of Stoke fail to realise the full potential of for their health benefit.

Health practitioners are often accused of telling others what they should or should not do to stay fit and healthy but seldom doing these things themselves. It is my hope that more health workers, particularly here in Stoke, will become involved in similar activities and lead the way to a healthier, happier society for all it’s population, leaving behind the “sick city” label it has carried for so long.

Team “Shake Them Bones” consist of Staff Nurse Jane Bennett, her husband, Graham, (the driver) Staff Nurse Natalie Moore and her brother Christopher Moore, Mr Jonathan Dwyer, Orthopeadic Consultant, and Staff Nurse Denepher Smith. If you are interested in what we are doing and would like to support us and the British Heart Foundation please visit our fund raising page at Virgin Money Giving. We thank you.


Joint report shows work needed to address deprivation and ill health in the city. Code 065-11

Photos of Snowdon taken by Suzan Simms, 2010.