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Gateshead Council is celebrating after winning the BBC's Big Challenge competition to find the healthiest workplace...
Gateshead Council is celebrating after winning the BBC's Big Challenge competition to find the healthiest workplaces in the North East.

The organisation which employs 11,000 members of staff was commended in the Healthiest Large Employer category in the BBC Radio Newcastle area and will now go on to the national championships.

The prize comes following workplace initiatives aimed at encouraging employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Schemes run by Gateshead Council include selling fresh fruit and vegetables through a food co-operative and weekly 'health walks'.

A 7-step weight loss programme offers staff help and support to loose excess weight as well as a weekly 'weigh-in', while a dedicated 'health room'

provides a space to undertake low-impact exercise. In March the authority will run a 'Wellbeing at Work' week, offering advice and information on health and taster sessions for things like head massage, reflexology and shiatsu.

The council was also one of the first to make all premises 'smoke free' in May 2004, as well as offering employees assistance to quit smoking.

Meanwhile Lancaster Life Assist provide a counselling service for staff wanting a friendly ear to discuss any problems they may have, while an independent company, Westfield, offers employees access to treatments not available through the NHS, like help with buying new glasses or contact lenses and going to the dentists.

Cllr Malcolm Graham, cabinet member for health at Gateshead Council said, 'I am delighted the council has been recognised by the BBC as the healthiest large employer in the North East. At Gateshead Council we really want our employees to be in the best of health. If you feel healthy, you're more likely to feel better about yourself as well as perform better at work. A few small changes like taking a bit of exercise and eating more fruit and vegetables can make the world of difference - and if you're going on a health walk or to a class at lunchtime, you're going to feel a lot better when you return to work in the afternoon.'

The accolade comes on the back of Gateshead Council's Beacon Status award in the healthy communities category which it won last year for it's dedication to improving the health of local residents. The council is recognised as one of the 12 best in the country for encouraging local people to undertake a more healthy regime.

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