Meet our members: Andy Read MCIMSPA

Andy Read


Individuals who are passionate, professional, and competent drive the success and growth of our sector. Through sport or physical activity, they inspire and enable our nation to be active. In CIMSPA’s pursuit to showcase the excellence of the sport and physical activity sector’s workforce we present CIMSPA’s ‘Meet the Member’ blogs. Through a variety of interviews with CIMSPA members we want to highlight the different career avenues available in our sector and show just how diverse in experience our workforce really is.

In this instalment we introduce Andy Read, an ardent campaigner for defibrillators in leisure facilities. He’s current Head of Safety at Places Leisure, although he will be stepping down from the role in Spring. We had a great time chatting to Andy about his background, career so far and how his cardiac arrest spurred him on to fight for defibrillators across the country.

Could you briefly outline your background and current role?

“My current role is Head of Safety at Places Leisure. I've worked in the industry since I was a 16-year-old, starting part-time as a lifeguard. I've been a member of CIMSPA one way or another since it was called ISRM (the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management). I've got a certificate sitting in front of me from when I became a member in November 1984. So, I've been with CIMSPA for years. In fact, it was ISRM that required operators to have a specialist knowledge in safety. During that period, I've worked with local authorities until I was 26. And then I worked my way up, becoming a manager in the 1980s. I’ve worked in the private sector, managing local authority facilities ever since.”

Can you tell me a bit about what happened when you suffered cardiac arrest a few years ago?

“Prior to the cardiac arrest, myself and Jo Talbot, who was working with us but now is director at IQL, were campaigning to have defibrillator qualified lifeguards in the RLSS. We were both passionate about getting defibrillators into all the DC Leisure sites. DC Leisure later became Places Leisure.

“Three years ago, in August 2018 on a Saturday morning, I had a cardiac arrest. It was at home, and I had no symptoms beforehand. Only about 10% of people who have out-of-hospital cardiac arrests survive. So, I'm in a in a very small group here. But luckily for me, my wife had training in CPR, because we both trained in lifesaving many years ago. I collapsed in the kitchen, and when she realised, she immediately called 999. My neighbour, noticing there was a problem, had recently done a first aid course and a defibrillator course. He came around immediately and started CPR. The 999 call prompted a first responder that luckily was very close to my small town in Suffolk. They came immediately and gave me four shocks with the defibrillator. When the 999 call was raised, an air ambulance based at the East Anglian Air Ambulance Base to both was dispatched from Cambridge. They were immediately available to take off with a doctor and paramedics on the crew. They were with me within 70 minutes. They spent the next hour and a half stabilising me. But things didn't look good.

“After that, I was flown straight to Basildon Cardiac Unit, where I spent the next three and a half weeks in a coma. They found the cardiac arrest was caused by a blockage of an artery, and I had to have a stent and medication to clear it. It all came back to hereditary heart disease, which my father, grandfather and great grandfather all died from. All-in-all I’m very lucky to be alive having all the odds stacked against me on that day.”

How are you using your own experience to make a difference?

“I have been successful in getting defibrillators into leisure centres. I thought, right, what am I now going to do now? A real passion for me is my hometown and we managed to get about seven or eight defibrillators installed there. We wanted to get defibrillators within two minutes of nearly every home and every business within the town. Many businesses already had them installed inside their premises, but they're not in boxes that are immediately available for access, and they certainly weren’t available 24/7. My neighbours decided to get together and kickstart the initiative, we all donated about £50 each. Althoigh we had a target of 19 defibs in 2019 we didn’t achieve our goal …I probably knew we wouldn't. And we didn't achieve it in 2020. I think we're now on about 16 or 17. But the important thing is we’re getting there. And I very much hope by 2025 we'll have had 25 in town.

“I’ve been working closely with the East Anglian Air Ambulance to publicise this, because it's not just a case of getting the defibrillators installed, we've got to make the whole thing sustainable. The defibrillators need to be properly maintained and people need to know how to use them.”

What needs to change to make sure defibrillators are on the frontlines of the sport and physical activity sector?

“I think it’s got to come back to education and awareness. I believe that we're probably moving to a point where, although training is beneficial, there mustn't be a fear of defibrillators. Because they are easy to use. You open them up and they tell you what to do. But that's only going to come about through education to get to that point. And what I've noticed is that people are a little bit scared of them. They’re a little bit worried about them and cautious, which is understandable. But the more the message gets out there the better.

“I absolutely believe that every leisure centre in the UK should have a publicly accessible defibrillator outside their facility. Our leisure centres are community hubs. In 40 years of working in the sector, I’ve never seen a leisure centre that isn’t integral to the community. They’re the perfect place for defibrillators.”

What one thing or piece of advice would you recommend to others currently going through what you went through?

“I worked on marginal gains after a cardiac arrest. There were three things, after I came around from my coma, that were important to me in life. And that was green trees, blue skies, and smiling faces.

“I took every opportunity to get back into some sort of fitness. I had CBT therapy, which was superb. I went to a support group, and counselling, because the mental side of this was tough. I had other health issues to contend with too, so the mental health side of it all is important. I thought, after the cardiac arrest, I’m going to struggle on a bike. So, I bought an e-bike. I do yoga, pilates, and walking football too. Fitness is crucial. With Covid-19, I’m sure there’s more people out there now that realise why it’s important.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

“I've actually decided to step down as Head of Safety at Places Leisure. In the end of March next year, I'll be carrying on working in leisure in one capacity or another, but my health means I need to change as I get mentally tired. That’s the one thing that I think I've had to recognise isn't going to improve. The role needs someone that is at the height of physical and mental fitness to do the job that I'm doing.

“Everyone is responsible for making sure there’s more defibrillators in their local communities. I’m passionate about getting them out there, and them saving peoples’ lives”

Summary

Andy is just one of thousands of CIMSPA members whose dedicated career represents the commitment, passion and devotion to sport and physical activity. CIMSPA, our members, and partners are working together to bring recognition and respect to our profession, and this continues to be possible because of our members, like Andy.

If you would like to get involved or submit your own blog, please contact communications@cimspa.co.uk for further details and requirements.

 

The Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity


CIMSPA’s work enhances the career opportunities and professional development of the workforce operating in sport, fitness, exercise, leisure, gyms, coaching, outdoor exercise, health and wellbeing. We achieve this through sector-wide engagement, membership, networking, events, directories and professional standards.
 

Incorporated by Royal Charter Charity registration number 1144545

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