My Internship with Health Exchange

It started with a casual conversation

On a Saturday few weeks ago, I attended an evening concert at the Bramall Hall where my friend played the double bass for the university’s philharmonic orchestra. During the break, I had a stroll with my friend to find some drinks. He was having a chat with a lady about his degree and suddenly, turned to me and said” Yes, Wei-Lun. That’s the sort of thing you do, isn’t it?” I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation but I heard the words nutrition and healthcare so I uncertainly replied ”Yes!?”. I was then introduced to Jennifer, the Chief Operations Officer at Health Exchange, and had a short conversation. That’s where it is started. After that evening, I found the website and contact details and I emailed to enquire about the possibility of an internship. I met Jennifer again the following Thursday and she introduced me to the Health Exchange team and explained what the organisation is doing and the services it is providing. It immediately interested me and I started to consider all the things that could be achieved here.

If you are a social enterprise, why not consider opening up Summer Intern opportunities for the students. To find out more, speak to Jennifer Jones-Rigby –0121 663 0007.

“The Issue of Loneliness in the UK”

So here I began. I started the internship and was introduced to the issue of loneliness. My task is to do the research on this very issue and to help the organisation look at innovative ways to tackle it. The headlines from the news, “Britain is found to be the capital of Loneliness in Europe” and “Loneliness is more likely to affect young people than older people” can be shocking when you first hear them. Loneliness is not a thing people often speak openly about and the experience of feeling lonely can mean different things to each person. Loneliness is not the same as simply being alone but it is the need to connect with other people or a feeling of not being understood by others.

If I did not begin my internship here, I was planning to work as a pool lifeguard. Unfortunately, the lifeguarding course was cancelled so I was suddenly left with a great deal of time – the whole summer. This was terrifying because all my University friends have gone home and as an international student, I am alone in the UK while all my family is on the other side of the world. Staying alone with little contact with people for weeks or months even can be dreadful experience, just like my last summer. I enjoyed playing a variety of sports and exercising with friends but as soon as the summer started, the activities all went quiet. I tried to study but became less motivated as the time went on. Then the time slowed down. I felt unenergetic and reluctant to go out and exercise. I found myself at home in front of a screen, browsing through film catalogues and trying to entertain myself. I had lots of free time but I was not genuinely happy. I struggled to sleep at night and had to sleep in day time because of this. I tried to avoid contact with anyone that I didn’t know. In the end, I even became too lazy to eat. Looking back, I now realise that I fell into this vicious cycle of ”Loneliness”. It was a feeling of losing purpose and failure to make a connection with other people. Now I really want to figure out a way prevent myself from going back to those dark days again and to make sure others do not have to feel this way. I have been considering the following questions and thoughts; How can we avoid being affected by loneliness? How can we get support when we are feeling lonely? It can be hard to speak about loneliness but really, the starting point would be to recognise that “I am feeling lonely”. It is not something that a label of shame should be attached to. A simple confession to someone that ”I am feeling lonely.” can be very relieving. A family member or a friend can be very helpful.

Now I have become more aware of my state when I feel lonely, I will be able to do something different when the next long night arrives. At the end of the day, anyone can feel lonely. It is a human trait we share.

Recognition of Loneliness, Getting Support and Wellbeing

Some people find that being alone is sometimes important to their wellbeing. Whether that is having time to read a book or relaxing in a quiet place after work or to do whatever you like without being concerned about another human being. But isolating yourself from other people for too long or too often can have some negative effects. When I found that I was trapped alone and nobody seemed to be able to help me, I felt the sense of losing a purpose. I felt the negative energy that stopped me from wanting to do anything like eating and exercising. I started to have negative thoughts. I tried to appear happy when facing people but I was constantly in a bad mood alone. This was the time I realised that I could not do it alone. I had to forget all that shame and talk to someone. Being mentally well is just as important as being physically well or sometimes it can be even more relevant to one’s wellbeing. I was lucky that I had a good friend at the University that supported me and was just simply willing to listen to me. It is very likely that you have people around you that are more than happy to listen to you but they wont’t be able to if they are not aware of how you are feeling. I made the first step to tell someone and I felt happy that I found something more of life. I felt free that I was not trapped by anything anymore.

There is always support around: your parents, a friend, your children, your grandchildren or a professional.

Talk to someone. Be honest and don’t worry too much about what will happen because the most important thing at this moment is that you are being taken care of and to make sure you are alright.

Contact us:

If you would like to talk to us, you may call our Mental Wellbeing Team directly by: 0121 663 1559 (9am to 5pm)

If you would like to access Health Exchange dedicated services, there are a few to choose from including:

Support From other Organisations:

·      Samaritans

24-hour support for anyone having a difficult time
Telephone: 0845 790 9090

·      The Silver Line

Free, confidential 24-hour phone line for older people offering information and friendship. People can call anytime for advice, information or simply a chat – the charity also offers a befriending service. Silver Circles are conference calls for several like-minded people who would like to chat in a group.
Helpline: 0800 470 8090

More Support:

Contact the Elderly is a national charity solely dedicated to tackling loneliness and social isolation among older people through face to face contact. Supported by a network of volunteers, the charity organises free monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people, aged 75 and over, who live alone. Offering a regular and vital friendship link every month. Each older person is collected from their home by a volunteer driver and taken to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon. The group is warmly welcomed by a different host each month, but the drivers remain the same which means that over the months and years, acquaintances turn into friends and loneliness is replaced by companionship.


“Services: Smoking Cessation “

I gratefully had a chance to attend the sessions from Health Exchange Smoking Cessation team. In the very first session, my senior colleagues and I went to children’s centre to introduce Stop Smoking services to pregnant moms. Smoking during pregnancy has devastating effects on babies. The adverse outcomes can be; prematurely born babies, undersized babies and even stillbirth. It can also result in diseases of babies such as: asthma, heart defects and learning disorders when the babies grow up. My mom never smokes and she told me that my dad quit smoking when he knew that she was having me, and he never smoked again since then. “Quit for kids.” It is a good point to quit smoking for both parents who are expecting babies. You may even be able to quit smoking forever and gain lots of health benefits. Most importantly, quitting smoking is the best gift that a father and a mother can give to a child.

“Quit to live.” Later in the week, we visited Sandwell General Hospital and Hallam Street Hospital for the patients who want to quit smoking but struggle to do it by themselves. Most of them have severe health problems and quitting smoking could really be a live-or-die issue. While in hospital, the patients are supported by free NRT services (Nicotine Replacement Therapy). Outside hospitals Nicotine Replacement Products could be expensive. Therefore, using the services available to you and getting heathier is a smart choice. Once discharged from the hospital, however, the patients can be referred by the hospitals to Health Exchange and our Smoking Cessation Team can fully support you with a 12 weeks Stop Smoking Program. We also have occupational clinics in Sandwell Hospital and Birmingham City Hospital for staff members who need support to quit smoking.

Our smoking cessation team also home visits the clients who are struggling to get to the local clinics. I am very glad that I had a chance to visits some clients at home this week alone with my senior colleagues. Most of them are older people and have mobility issues, which means it is difficult for them to go out and socialise with neighbours, friends or relatives. This makes people more vulnerable to loneliness and the feeling of emptiness could lead them to more cigarettes. Visiting clients weekly at their comfortable place also gives them a feeling of companionship and gives them a space to talk about their daily life and the improvements or concerns on their health issues.


I had an opportunity to attend the COPD support session by Health Exchange. COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and it is a condition that the patients would struggle to breath or coughs regularly. Apart from some necessary treatments such as stopping smoking and inhalers for asthma, a specialised exercise and education program is very important for patients’ pulmonary rehabilitation. In the COPD support session, we went through some simple exercises that are to help with breathing. It is crucial to know which exercises to do and then do it regularly in your own pace at home. And then we did some meditation to relax our body. A relax state of mind and emotions can help with the condition and general health. I am glad that I observed how the session leader delivered the exercise program in a professional manner because this is particularly in my interest area- improving health by exercise. It is important for people who do not like exercise to find an alternative way to enjoy it. After all, to live, we need to move. If we can enjoy exercise and its benefits more, we can take more control of COPD and other health conditions.


National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) is a joint commitment from NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK to prevent or delay Type 2 Diabetes. NHSE has commissioned four organisations to take on the behaviour change programme. Living Well Taking Control LLP (in partnership with Health Exchange) is proud to be the service provider for Birmingham, Sandwell, Solihull, Black Country and Dudley. Clients who are identified at risk of developing type 2 would be referred onto the program by their GP and after a blood glucose test has be carried out. If the patient falls between the risk ranges of HbA1c between 42-47 (mmol/mol) or FPG between 6.0%-6.4%, the participants will be invited onto the program. After an initial assessment a series of group education sessions for learning lifestyle changes (diet, activities etc.), we will be able to reduce the risks of diabetes and improve our general health.

The program includes an 8-week intensive group-based program and then a series of follow-up checks for a year. In the 8-week period, every week we will attend a one-and-half hour session to learn about our health and lifestyle. In a typical NDPP session, the program leader introduces a topic to us and we talk about nutrition and physical activities that we did. And then throughout the session, we will be planning to make some new lifestyle changes. Note that this is not an over-night change. Psychologists suggested that approximate time to replace an old habit with a new one is 21 days (3 weeks) and it takes 66 days for a new habit to be automatic. Starting to make a change in life is always difficult- some people say “I am lazy.” or “I am not motivated.” other participants say “I gain weight without eating much.” “I do not like to exercise.”. Therefore, we will be learning about what physical activities we can do to begin with and choosing what to eat. However, if you know these things already, what you need is perhaps just a little push or a bit encouragement. The program is not just about learning nutrition and physical activities, it is essentially about getting the motivation by a group of same interests as well as the confidence to make changes that will benefit us for a longer life.

I am very happy that I am involved in the programme and attending the sessions. It stimulates me and makes me want to learn more about the topics and do more research about type 2 diabetes, physical activities and diet. These topics are covered as part of my degree (Sport and Exercise Science) too, and I enjoy using what I learned to discuss with other participants in NDPP sessions. I have been asked some interesting questions as well- Why is eating fruits better than eating chocolate bars if they both have sugar in them? Well, the same amount of a chocolate bar in grams has more sugar than a banana. And the sugar from banana is released slower into your blood because of its fibre whereas the sugar in chocolate releases a larger amount into your blood in a shorter period of time. These kind of questions inspire me and I began to be more curious about the relevant topic and went on to learn more. From the experience, I learnt that some people do not have the basis of these knowledge regarding their health, diet and physical activities and they would need support in this area of knowledge. For me to learn more and give it back to people is a very satisfying experience.

And therefore, NDPP is a wonderful platform for us all to learn more for our wellbeing.


Last but not least

It has been an enjoyable time and healthy environment where I worked with supportive colleagues and have had a chance to develop the area of my interests. Furthermore, through this internship I have had a chance to engage in Birmingham community and explore the region that I was not previously familiar with. In the term time of studying at University of Birmingham, I would spend most of my time near campus in Edgebaston and only occasionally come into the town. However, because of this internship I have been to many more places in wider Birmingham area such as Smethwick, West Bromwich and Bordesley Green. Visiting the community centre, hospitals and other charity organisation as well as meeting the people who work in hospitals and charities gave me a clearer insight of what is needed in this young city. Birmingham is still a developing city with the city council working on new plans and Birmingham is also multicultural because of its immigrants from diverse background. This leads to issues such as urban poverty. To improve the wellbeing of the community, Health Exchange works in partnership with the city council and other organisations. To find out more about the project (Use-it), please visit


To find out more about the services that Health Exchange offer, please contact Health Exchange on 0121 663 007.


Editor: Wei-Lun Chen, Research and Development Intern, Health Exchange



  1. Is amazing how things happen when you least expected. I wish you the best with your internship.

  2. Thanks for sharing all of your experiences!

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