Public Health Heroes Waltham Forest



In the midst of one of the most difficult times in modern  history where it is estimated that over a million people around the world have lost their lives to the COVID 19 pandemic, many have experienced deterioration in their mental health as a result, and watched devastating news and numerous incidents of racism and injustice, there is no better time like the present to celebrate and be inspired by our Public Health heroes.

Public Health heroes are people who have defied the odds and have

  • Overcome negative circumstances affecting them or their community
  • Made a positive personal change and lead a healthier life
  • Been an example for others, influencing the health and lifestyle of others in their community.

The health inequalities facing black people are undeniable. Black people are disproportionately affected by many negative health outcomes including obesity, diabetes and others.  Similarly, access to early help services that support health are disproportionally lower amongst black communities.

Despite this, it is important to celebrate the heroes within our communities. People who are defying the odds, negative statistics and challenging circumstances that affect their health negatively. For Black History month the council’s Public Health team are celebrating these heroes to both applaud them and inspire us all.

Andrea’s story Click to get info

Andrea, a bodybuilder, UKBFF 2018 British Women’s Physique Bodybuilding Champion and a Transformational Life Coach, tells her story of how she lost everything, her career overcame mental ill health, and turned her life around to be who she is while helping others make a positive change in their lives:

‘‘In 2015 I was diagnosed with a mental health illness; at the time I was more focused on what was important to everyone else before myself.

Prior to my diagnosis I had spent 15 years working in education in an inner London secondary school, as head of two departments, until my mental health broke down. I resigned as I felt very low in confidence and self-esteem. I was very embarrassed and ashamed of the mental breakdown I had experienced.

I was advised to use the gym to manage my health, I took it a few steps further and began my journey to become a bodybuilder. 

In 2016 I started to make changes to my life by turning my pain into my passion and was soon able to prosper both mentally and financially from my actions. I became the founder & Director of Focus On Creating Your Ultimate Self (F.O.C.U.S) CIC and the Youth Fitness Mentoring Programme, both addressing the issues with physical and mental health in young people. 

I qualified as a personal trainer and am also a public speaker, Youth Mental Health First Aider and mental health ambassador for MQ Mental Health, Time to Change, as well as a member of the Mind Physical Activity Advisory Board.

I now compete internationally as a professional body builder and have started a new career as a Transformational Life Coach with a particular focus on supporting women to thrive and rise above their challenges, feel optimistic and confident, so they can be, do and have all that they desire and deserve.

Find out more about Andrea’s work:



Angela’s story Click to get info


I always used to be fit and did dancing and went to the gym 5 days a week. However, things changed once I moved to London, and got busy with work so stopped the gym.

My mother has a heart condition and on my dad’s side of the family is a lot of diabetes. As I was heading towards my 50th birthday my body felt like it was in a life jacket. I felt restricted, would get out of breath so easily. From the lift to my office is only 3 steps and that nearly killed me. So I knew something wasn’t right with my health. Also given my family history I knew I had to do something about my fitness and excess weight. I felt so unhappy going into the shop and never getting my size and my self-esteem was very low.

The breakthrough happened last year when my friend invited me for a fitness weekend in January. At the time I was ashamed of how I looked and didn’t feel or look fit enough to do the routine. This also coincided with when I turned fifty, so this gave me the motivation, I needed to begin to lead a healthier life.

I began researching and watching a lot of before and after videos of people who got fitter and healthier to get motivation. Being from a Caribbean background our diet is very high in processed carbohydrate and starchy food. So all I did was to swap all the starchy and processed carbs for more healthier alternatives.

I cut out all the processed rice, pasta and breads and replaced it with healthier carbs from vegetables and almonds. So, I make my own bread and pizzas using almond flour, egg and baking powder. I drink almond milk and swapped processed sugar for healthier sweeteners alternatives. I also eat a lot more vegetables. I think people can eat what they like as long as they swap processed or unhealthy meals for healthier alternatives but this is what worked for me personally*

Making this change within a year I lost 3 stones and dropped 3 sizes.

I like this because it is not a diet but a lifestyle change. Just swapping. I have dieted all my life and this was the only things that has worked, just making healthy swaps. My self esteem has been really boosted and I just can’t believe the clothes I now fit into.

*Visit NHS website for advice on how to lose weight and/or lead a healthier life

Halstead’s story Click to get info

‘‘Born in Kingston Jamaica, I came to the UK when I was 6.

I experienced all the negative things people of my colour experience, in school, society, and felt this restricted me from gaining my full potential, not having many opportunities as a black Male.

Lost my mother at a young age, which sent my life into a deep and dark hole- I started taking drugs as a coping measure to navigate and keep my soul dead just to walk and run with wolves, vampires, and zombies. As survival and crime go hand in hand I was arrested, and prison was part of life.

I later started to engage with drug services for help and support, went to a number of detox rehab clinic but would always fall back into what's easy because I wasn't using the support and help to its full potential, I was told by doctors I had 3 months to live so I used the same energy I used to feed negative behaviour and flipped it to a positive action.

 My drive now, is working with CGL to help change or improve people’s life. I work with CGL as a paid Recovery Champion. Being a Peer mentor, Volunteer and Service User Representative, has enabled me to fight hard for and support people. I facilitate SMART groups, encouraging clients to engage with service, supporting things such as Recovery cafe, Black History Month events, mediation and well-being groups and support other peers and volunteers.

Positive change is like a virus, if we can help change one person, they can change another and so on. From my life experience, institutional racism on people of colour or class is still ongoing, being disconnected from your cultural heritage breeds lack of self-love and self-respect, this can drive someone to substance misuse. I know many people of colour who have mental, sexual or substance issues that will not engage with services for help because of lack of trust in the system.

My wish and drive are to help, gay, homeless, substance users and people of colour falling through the cracks of so- called normal society get the help and support they need to change their life. Everyone deserves a chance to shine. That is what I believe’’.

If you or anyone you know is affected by drug or alcohol contact CGL Waltham Forest for support on 0203 826 9600 or email

Faith's story Click to get info

I developed depression during the lockdown. College ended so suddenly, the course I wanted to do in uni was no longer running this year, plus being in the house all the time and not having anything to focus on really took a toll on my health.

At college I had 2 jobs plus I was running my hair business, so I was busy all the time. With the pandemic everything just stopped, and I was in the house all the time which affected my mental health. There were days when I had no energy couldn’t get out bed, depressed. Things got even worse when I heard about my friend’s nan passing away. I was close to the family so this affected me very badly as it brought all the hurt and pain from losing my own nan.

When things were getting very bad, I called my GP for support. but they asked me to call back. I decided not to continue trying to get support from them instead, I decided to push myself to get out of the house and support myself. I started to go for walks and find something positive to focus on.

Now I feel much better. I do not always feel good all the time, but I am not depressed. I knew that I needed space in order for me to feel better, so I went to live with my Great grandad, and I learnt a lot from being there. Journaling, prayers, and mediation daily has really helped me get into a much more positive space. 

I am taking a gap year now and using the time to focus on my business called essence. This keeps me motivated.

Connecting with my friends also is a big help and very important. We connect by phone, snap chat and WhatsApp and we have all gotten much closer during the lock down. It feels good to know that there are people you can talk to’’

Faith is an entrepreneur, young adviser and mental health Ambassador in Waltham Forest. You can follow her on Instagram:  Essence_by_faith_