Health fairs can be a great way to educate a community on how to live a healthy life, but how can you ensure that your effort is hitting the mark? Castleblayney may have the answer.

With just a few short months until summer hits, many communities are planning ahead for festivals, open days, sports days and loads more. One event they should also be considering? Health fairs.

Monaghan Integrated Development (MID), the local development company, has developed a good model for how to run a one-day health fair with a strong social inclusion emphasis.

Gerard Callan, education co-ordinator at MID, believes that it “has the potential to be replicated across the country”.

Low-cost, high-impact

Monaghan’s health fair is held in a different town each year and the organisers view it as a relatively simple, low-cost event that gets across important messages to the public about healthy living.

Last summer (2018), around 500 people attended the health fair held at Glencarn Shopping Centre in Castleblayney.

As Gabriel O’Connell, MID’s CEO, pointed out, “In the modern world, health care is an expensive business, but events like the fair show people the very low-cost steps they can take to preserve their good health and prevent illness.”

“[These steps] include getting your blood pressure checked on a regular basis, keeping an eye on your weight, taking some exercise and cutting down on cigarettes and alcohol,” he said.

Already, many community groups organise health fairs, but Monaghan’s fair comes with all the bells and whistles.

When he visited, Monaghan County Council chairperson David Maxwell declared it a “knockout”. (He had been particularly impressed by the boxercise class, and even suggested that all public representatives try it out. In fairness, nobody ever gets hurt during boxercises.)

Other interactive events included baby massaging, chairobics and a lunchtime ‘Workers Walk’.

We are what we eat

A healthy lunchbox includes fruit portions, and staff of the newly opened Rainbeau store showed that it is easy to present fruit in an appealing and tasty way. Their free fruit samples were a hit, particularly with children from Scoil na gCailíní and Gaelscoil Lorgan.

Throughout the day, chef Paul McGarrell from Monaghan town delivered demos on portion sizes, fun food for babies, cooking for one and healthy lunchboxes.

Dinkins Café offered free samples of their health breads, which included yeast-free and sugar-free samples, spelt bread, and low-GI bread for diabetics.

Interactive elements and lots of freebies

Public health nurses from the Cavan Monaghan Primary Care Team offered free body mass index (BMI) checks, while the Irish Heart Foundation offered free blood pressure checks.

As one member of the public who availed of the free blood pressure checks remarked, “That’s €50 and an hour in the waiting room saved. Now I don’t need to go to my doctor!”

The public were also able to test the levels of carbon monoxide in their lungs through the Irish Cancer Society’s Fit for Work and Life programme.

The fair included interactive elements as well, with boxercise classes delivered by Orla McCarthy and chairobics facilitated by Aisling McDermott.

Chairobics is a sit-down exerice class that includes a range of low-impact aerobic routines. It begins with a blend of yogic stretches and gradually progresses to more accelerated types of movements, all performed while sitting down.

Boxercise is an exercise class that is based on the training concepts boxers use to keep fit. A typical class may involve shadow boxing, skipping, hitting pads, kicking punchbags, and doing push-ups, shuttle-runs and sit-ups.

Most boxercise classes are aimed at men and women of all ages and fitness standards. It is a fun, challenging and safe workout, as no class involves the hitting of an opponent.

Overall, the fair offered support and advice under four headings: healthy eating, physical activity, mental wellbeing and anti-cancer support.

Every exhibitor had staff on hand to explain how their organisation could help, and the message from all 26 exhibitors was to get out, get active, build your mental resilience, eat properly, cut down (or cut out) smoking, be careful of the amount you drink and, above all, look for help if you need it.

Thanks to Gerard Callan for the in-depth information for this story.

Interested in reading more about the state of Ireland’s community development sector? Check out our latest issue.