Feature – Focus on Healthcare: Finding funding for staff wellbeing

Wellbeing and pre-emptive healthcare programmes are all the rage, and there may be grant money out there to help employers fund their activities, says Nick Golding

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Two pilot government-supported workplace health projects are currently operating across England with grants being distributed by Sport England and the British Heart Foundation.

Grants are typically available on an ad-hoc basis when money becomes available so employers should ensure they have taken steps to secure their eligibility ahead of time.

Manchester United and ITV Granada were both awarded grants by Sport England earlier this year to help fund workplace health projects.

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Finding the cash to fund wellbeing and fitness programmes for staff can be a squeeze. But some employers, such as Manchester United, have struck lucky by claiming grants from bodies funded by the National Lottery. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Not only do the beneficiaries often have to partly fund the wellbeing initiative themselves, but some have come up against criticism from those who believe that the money should be used to benefit under-resourced voluntary organisations, rather than profitable businesses. Manchester United Football Club, for example, received much media attention for accepting a £30,000 grant from Sport England despite already having extensive fitness equipment onsite.

ITV Granada also received a grant from the body. Sport England in the North West has used National Lottery cash to fund grants for employers as part of its “£1 million challenge” fitness drive which is designed to encourage more physical activity among employees in the workplace and to reduce sickness absence.

It claims the money has had to be distributed evenly across public and private sector employers for research purposes. Stewart Kellet, regional director for Sport England in the North West, says: “We obviously had to get an even spread. We wanted to make contact with all employees, from both the private and public sector, to see which schemes work best and where.”

The organisations concerned also have to show some commitment to their project and, in some cases, they are required to more than match the total amount awarded. “We wanted companies to show a commitment of cash. We certainly don’t want organisations taking £10,000 [from Sport England] but not put in any effort themselves,” adds Kellet. Grants for wellbeing projects have also been issued to employers by the British Heart Foundation through its £1.6m Well @ Work programme, funded by the government and the National Lottery.

Ceri Jones, programme manager of Well @ Work, explains: “Most employers we chose were already thinking about workplace health. Some were already putting plans in place and just wanted to move it to the next level.” While these grants can be scarce and are available on an ad-hoc basis, there are several things employers can do to improve their chances of being selected if they decide to apply for a grant. Sport England’s Kellet says that employers should be able to produce a health plan and show some “imagination” when applying.

This year, Warrington Borough Council accepted a £49,500 grant from Sport England, which it believes was awarded due to the tough plans it had drawn up to deal with sickness absence. Duncan Richardson, principle leisure manager at Warrington Borough Council, says: “Keep your eyes and ears open for these grants.

The application process is simple, but you must have plans in place for the future of health at the company. With the grant we have been able to employ a lifestyle officer who will be tasked with initiating sessions and incentives for staff during work time.”

If you are looking for cash to help fund a wellbeing programme, forward planning is essential so that you are ready to apply for the grants when the opportunity arises.