“To change the conversation, we have to change who is part of it”

Brightening children’s futures

I was in the supermarket choosing a birthday card when I heard a child singing the alphabet beside me: ABC..DEFG.. HIJKLM… And I thought, maybe we should share health knowledge this way, through memorable rhymes, stories and games.

Having asthma as a child can affect your life chances. Children may feel stigma, they may feel like victims and they may lack confidence. They may miss school and do less well educationally. I know, because I was that child. Families also express anxiety that they don't always know how to help. They lose sleep, they miss work and they can be over-protective.

I started something I now call ‘BreathChamps’ with about 30 parents and children at a community Halloween Party in a challenging part of Salford. I reckoned if it worked there it would work anywhere. I had a wolf glove puppet and sang ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ at the top of my voice. And the children joined in and helped the wolf (who had asthma) when he couldn't blow down the house of straw for coughing. Most either had or knew a child with asthma and correctly identified that he needed a blue inhaler to stop him coughing. Children fell over themselves to give the wolf his inhaler correctly through a spacer, in front of everyone.

Then we added the missing preventer when he couldn't blow down the house of sticks – more inhaler technique practice followed. And then he had an acute asthma attack after inhaling smoke when climbing down the chimney in the house of bricks. The parents and children learned that they needed to call an ambulance and give the Big Bad Wolf ten puffs of reliever inhaler, whilst sitting him up and keeping him calm.

The fifth priority for the People’s Powerhouse is stronger collaboration. When Lord Adebowale says ‘I want to see more collaboration and delivering services differently’ to me this is about the democratisation of health knowledge and to view communities as assets. Some, like me, know the clinical stuff; parents, children and communities have the lived experience and their own tips and tricks.

A productive North is one where our children and families know how to manage long term conditions to attend school, achieve and gain meaningful employment. People helping people also brings wellbeing by giving meaning, purpose and confidence.

We need to design a relationship not just a service when it comes to sharing health messages. Parents want first and foremost for their child to be happy and to have fun – so where possible we need to redesign asthma reviews into enjoyable spaces that become a destination, not a chore; so group consultations become ’asthma parties’.

My aim is for BreathChamps to become a social movement, where stories are shared across the North of England and in so doing our children are kept safe by the whole community.

Heather Henry, Queen’s Nurse, is a nurse entrepreneur and founder of BreathChamps.
Find out more about BreathChamps at


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