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Les Mills™ Virtual group exercise classes are successfully integrating international students into the campus community at the University of Leeds

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Balancing Life Survey
The University of Leeds has a large international student population, many of whom attend the Business School. However, its location on the outskirts of campus makes it more difficult for them to engage with facility-focused activities at the university’s on-campus gym – The Edge.

To identify the activity levels of staff and students, the Sport and Physical Activity department conducts an annual Balancing Life Survey, which looks at the areas of campus where there could be more opportunities for them to get involved.

Engaging international students, especially through activities that support their experience of British culture, was identified as a key area of focus. Similarly, the survey identified the need to build networks and increase the integration of students from different cultural backgrounds. The survey also revealed that there are thousands of students looking to learn new languages and seeking opportunities to incorporate language learning into real-life settings.

As a result of these findings, the Sport and Physical Activity department teamed up with the university’s International Office to undertake a pilot scheme aimed at leveraging group exercise classes at The Edge for international students.

Virtual Mandarin Classes
In partnership with Les Mills, the University of Leeds launched a timetable of Les Mills™ Virtual classes in Mandarin over Christmas 2017 and Easter 2018. With marketing and promotional support led by the International Office, the team was hopeful that Mandarin content could become a permanent fixture on the timetable.

The results of the first Mandarin virtual classes over Christmas yielded impressive results, attracting 155 participants across the two-week holiday.

“Naturally, we see a dip in group exercise over the Christmas period, so to get the volume of people we did was very impressive,” said James Buckley, Physical Activity, Health and Wellbeing Manager at the University of Leeds.

This was replicated over Easter, and the results were even more positive with 244 participants. In fact, the numbers for virtual Mandarin content stood-up favourably against other content in English.

One of the most impressive parts of the programme was how well it highlighted the power of group exercise in reducing isolation and helping students to feel more integrated into The Edge community.

“It’s very common for international students to remain on campus out of term time. With this in mind, various departments work collaboratively to provide a programme of activity to reduce any feelings of isolation that they might have, and foster opportunities to integrate international students with UK students, during term time and holiday breaks.

“Implementation of these Les Mills group exercise classes was a perfect example of this working to full effect,” explains James.

“With more students taking part in Les Mills™ Virtual classes in Mandarin, we’ve seen the positive effect group exercise can have on integrating these classes into the language learning process, building new social groups and looking after well being.

“Feedback from participants clearly showed us what a great product the Les Mills classes are and the demand there is to showcase more of them. The student feedback was overwhelmingly positive.”

Language Rollout
The university is now looking to add Les Mills™ Virtual programming in additional languages, expanding the classes to other on-campus venues. This year will also see a new Innovation Centre being opened at the university, offering a virtual exercise studio.

“With the success of the virtual Mandarin programming, the team is looking to expand the offering to other languages. Due to the nature of the product, one of its great strengths is that we can take the virtual offering into residences or into the International Office itself,” added Buckley.

Working as an extension of the team, Les Mills provided invaluable insight into how to incorporate the programming on campus.

Buckley explains: “We wanted to be confident in the quality of the product, and we got that with Les Mills. We could really lean on the team for access to information and this was absolutely critical in helping us make the case for the trial.

“Les Mills was hugely supportive in helping us achieve these results. Quality content coupled with a truly individual approach is what sets them apart. It’s not a pre-set package. It was bespoke.”

The University of Leeds now boasts over 85 per cent occupancy rate across 245 classes per week at The Edge.

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