Leon and Janet Wormley win BGS Special Medal for Online Pandemic Exercise Classes for Older People

06 April 2022

The British Geriatrics Society (BGS) awards its Special Medal each year to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to promoting the health and wellbeing of older people. It recognises non-clinical professionals who have gone the extra mile through their work or volunteering in supporting older people.

This year’s winner is Leon Wormley. During the Covid-19 pandemic he created a holistic exercise programme for older people with his mother Janet, who has arthritis. This was done in collaboration with Versus Arthritis. Let’s Move with Leon is a 12-week programme which was filmed during lockdown and reached more than fifty thousand people. The programme educated older people to exercise safely at home, and built their skills, knowledge and understanding so they could tailor exercise to suit their own health. It was linked to the activities that people carry out every day and used household objects to exercise with. The Let’s Move (Versus Arthritis) programme is funded by Sport England, which aims to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

The key to Let’s Move with Leon was giving people ownership of their condition, so that they could manage it better. Leon helped design an activity tracker which gave simple ways to track progress, and motivated participants in their journey. Leon and Janet delivered live question and answer sessions, moderated a Facebook group, shared motivational posts and added humour with their unique relationship.

BGS Special Medal winner Leon Wormley said:

“None of us expected the programme's success. I was taken aback when people said it had changed their life or in some instances, that it had saved their life, along with reducing pain, increasing independence, improving quality of life, and reducing their medication dependency. The whole experience has been a win-win for everyone involved and the BGS Special Medal is the icing on the cake. I cannot think of anyone else I would rather share it with than my mum, Janet. She is the real star of the show, proving to many that movement can build capacity and unlock potential.”

Zoe Chivers, Director of Services and Influencing at Versus Arthritis, said:

"Let’s Move with Leon launched at an incredibly important time for people with musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions like arthritis. Many faced cancelled treatments and were shielding, unable to exercise while stuck at home in pain. With no access to gyms or physical therapies, this left tens of thousands at risk of worsening pain and mobility due to inactivity.

"Through the Let's Move programme, Leon and Janet have helped over fifty thousand people exercise at home during the pandemic. It has been a lifeline for people with arthritis on long NHS waiting lists and for those who've needed a safe space to exercise while shielding from Covid. The majority who joined the programme weren't physically active before and, without Let's Move, would have been left to manage their pain alone.

"This award is extremely well deserved. We thank Leon and Janet for everything they've done to support people with arthritis and MSK conditions."

Janet Wormley said:

“I am so proud that the Let’s Move with Leon programme has won this award. When he asked me to do this my first thoughts were negative. I had not exercised for a while, had a few health issues and was not long recovered from a foot injury. My wrists and shoulders were also painful.

“But I’m so glad I agreed. My confidence rocketed and my strength and mobility vastly improved. It is great to hear and see people benefiting from the exercises in the comfort of their own home. Many people, including myself, need this encouragement and support to move, more so after living in these very restrictive times. Not everyone can openly access a gym or go for a walk outside and feel safe.

“We are pleased to have been able to help those most in need and I just hope this success and attention to older people's health continues to grow.”

Professor of Ageing and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University and BGS Rehabilitation Group chair, Professor Dawn Skelton, said:

“Leon is a trained Postural Stability Instructor, amongst other specialist instructor qualifications, and used his training, alongside his commitment to his mother and others like her, to produce a programme that clearly engaged people and made a difference when other opportunities for exercise were not available. Wider than just videos, his engagement on Facebook with members means that barriers could be broken down, successes shared and a feeling of community built. A reminder that an exercise programme is more than a set of exercises and motivation is key to adherence and positive outcomes”