Chris Husbands: Sheffield can lead the way to healthier future lifestyles

Sheffield Hallam's Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre  will play a key role in the fight against obesity and encouraging more people to take regular exercise.
Sheffield Hallam's Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre will play a key role in the fight against obesity and encouraging more people to take regular exercise.
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HOW far did you walk yesterday? What did you have for breakfast? When was the last time you broke a sweat through exercise?

These aren’t just very nosey questions – they reveal the sort of person you are, the sort of society we are and they have profound implications for the demands each of us will make on society as we get older.

They are questions about health and wellbeing, which is exactly what Sheffield Hallam’s new research centre will be examining.

This week, in the east end of Sheffield, important figures from the NHS, healthcare private sector and region came together to mark an important day. Not just for the local community, but for our university, region and nation too.

Work began to construct a world-leading £14m research centre – the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC). Funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, the AWRC will create innovations for health, with a focus on those that help people move.

Health is a human right. We have made outstanding advances as a society in treating illness. We have drugs and treatments our grandparents could only have dreamt of, our ability to diagnose is better than ever and treating illness has become extraordinary. This is a great achievement of 20th century medicine.

However, as we conquer these challenges, new ones emerge. Increasingly, healthcare in the 21st century is not just about treating illness and disease, it is about securing health, wellbeing and wellness. Inactivity leading to long-term chronic illness is the new global challenge. So just how do we shape a healthy society when technological advances mean it could be perfectly feasible to live, work and socialise without leaving your house?

The AWRC tackles these issues head on, seeking to become the world’s leading centre for the study of activity and wellbeing. The centre will provide state-of-the-art, fully equipped indoor and outdoor laboratories and a team of over 70 researchers delivering collaborative projects.

These researchers, from Sheffield Hallam, will be drawn from a range of specialities from sports engineering, materials engineering and software development to elite sports science and psychology.

The AWRC will develop technical services and products from concept to commercialisation, and also complete the academic research which provides confidence that these innovations will not only address market needs, but also generate positive health impacts through increasing levels of physical activity.

Thanks to visionary investment by the Government and Sheffield Hallam, this new resource has outstanding potential to help revolutionise healthcare. The promise is enormous: to shift the focus from treating illness to promoting wellness, to use the insights we have from some of the most energetic and active of our citizens to improve the lives and livelihoods of all our people.

The AWRC can help deliver nothing short of the transformation of our thinking and our practice in health: From reactive care to pro-active planning, from treatment to anticipation.

For example, our researchers have been working with global phenomenon, parkrun, to increase participation amongst people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

The study looks at ways to make running more accessible. This type of research and innovation can have a real positive impact – changing lives, bringing about a more healthier lifestyle and saving the NHS millions in the process.

The new research centre, which will be at the heart of the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, is emblematic of our mission. To develop practical solutions to real-world problems, drawing teaching, research, community engagement and practical remedies together. Successful universities lead change in their communities and in the world through the application of high quality research, innovation and teaching.

Beyond the AWRC, Sheffield Hallam and our partners have ambitious plans for the long-term development of a Health Innovation Park at the Olympic Legacy site. It will become a network of research, development, teaching and outreach facilities led by the University.

Apart from providing outstanding healthcare solutions on a regional, national and international scale, our plans aim to attract investment and new jobs, building on the inward investment we have already secured.

It’s fitting that Sheffield will be home to this new healthcare revolution. Sheffield and the region led the way in the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Now, through its universities, we are leading the way in the innovation revolution of the 21st century.

Professor Chris Husbands is vice chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University.