ANNETTE Elwood, Charlotte Kington and Jacqui Stevens all have something in common – they have committed to lead healthier lifestyles and are already getting great results.

Melanie Bond, who works as a health ambassador for Swindon Council, has helped them, and many others, on the path to success with advice and support.

From April, councils across the country, including Swindon, will take full responsibility from the NHS for public health, establishing them as community leaders for health improvement and reducing health inequalities.

Annette, 63, of Penhill, met Mel 10 months ago and has since lost one stone 4lbs, and gained more self-confidence.

She said: “Lots of my friends have been saying how healthy I look, which is very nice. I wanted to lose a bit of weight and feel better in myself and I’ve managed to do both – it’s surprisingly easy.”

Mel runs advice sessions at John Moulton Hall and St Peter’s Church, in Penhill Drive, which Annette attended fortnightly for to keep track of her progress.

Annette said: “I started by keeping a food diary and we went through it in detail. Writing it down made me realise exactly what I was eating – and the effects. For example I would often feel lethargic after having a lot of chocolate or a heavy meal the night before.”

Charlotte has made some different changes – starting to eat regular meals, after years of going for days on end on just water.

The 21-year-old, of Shaw, who now works as a carer for disabled and older people, gave up eating after being bullied at school during her teenage years.

She said: “It started at my secondary school when I was picked on because of my weight. “I took drastic action and decided to stop eating – I would go for five or six days drinking only water.

“I dropped from a size 16 to a 10, but it wasn’t sustainable. When my little brother started copying what I was doing I realised I had to stop.”

Mel has developed regular exercise and eating plans for her to help get things back on track.

“Mel has made me realise that even though you may feel really self-conscious, nobody else notices half so much – if at all. She has also helped me to understand you’ve got to eat – which for me is really hard,” she said.

“Mel is great because she guides you slowly and isn’t pushy.” Jacqui Stevens’ wake-up call came when she attended her annual diabetic review a year ago. The nurse found irregularities which prompted her to take stock and make some big changes.

Jacqui, 50, a social worker from Toothill, said: “Together Mel and I took my diet in hand.” She has since lost two stone, has more energy and her diabetes is under better control. Watch a short video on their stories at

What is the Big Conversation all about?

The Big Conversation is a Swindon Council project which aims to provide a way of having a better dialogue with local people and building mutual understanding.

The council needs to make it easier for people to understand the challenges it is facing in terms of rapidly increasing demand and decreasing resources.

They also need to get better at listening and understanding what matters to people in the places they live.

By raising awareness and stimulating debate, communities will be more informed and the council will also learn more about people so better decisions can be made when tough choices have to be made. It’s called the Big Conversation because the council is starting a dialogue, which will continue for many years.

Information will be available online, at meetings and in printed material. An infographic has been created to illustrate the challenges and also explain things like where the money comes from and where people’s council tax is spent.

Visit conversation, or conversation, or on Twitter using the hashtag #Bigconversation.