Volunteers as lifestyle coaches in a clinical trial – experiences from Breast Cancer Now on the ActWELL trial


Session type:

Amy Hickman1, Hanne Bruhn2, Shaun Treweek2, Annie. S Anderson3
1Breast Cancer Now, 2University of Aberdeen, 3University of Dundee



ActWELL aimed to lower breast cancer risk by supporting women in Scotland, of breast screening age (50-70 years), to make sustainable lifestyle changes. The lifestyle intervention was designed to be delivered by trained volunteers. It is believed that partnerships with voluntary sector organisations can potentially increase reach into local community settings.  

Breast Cancer Now (BCN) supported the delivery of ActWELL by recruiting, training and managing a team of volunteer lifestyle coaches to deliver the intervention. 


Lifestyle coaches were identified through volunteer recruitment targeted at individuals with relevant skills and experience. Successful applicants received 2 days of training and BCN provided ongoing support to volunteers.  Volunteers delivered the lifestyle intervention in local leisure centres following up with telephone calls over 12-months.


Out of 170 applications received for the role 114 applicants were invited for interview and 66 received the lifestyle coach training. Volunteers brought a diverse mix of skills and experience from relevant professional backgrounds. Applicants predominantly identified as female (163) with the highest number of applications (68) coming from those aged 51-64.  Supporting others, a personal connection and an interest in cancer prevention were cited as motivations to volunteer. 

Volunteer retention was 68%, over 2.5 years with 21 volunteers dropping out throughout the trial. 45 volunteers took on trial participants delivering 623 face to face coaching sessions and made approximately 1,915 telephone calls. On average volunteers supported 7 intervention participants (range 3-15). Multiple factors contributed to volunteer capacity in supporting participants.

Throughout the trial volunteers highlighted issues and challenges experienced when delivering the intervention. There was a direct benefit to volunteers who reported they enjoyed the role (100%), developed new skills (85%) and met new people (85%).

Key learning points will be discussed in detail from the charity’s perspective.


Volunteers were successfully recruited by Breast Cancer Now and supported trial participants to lose significantly more weight than the comparison group.

Impact statement

ActWELL demonstrates it is possible for a health charity to recruit, train and deploy volunteers to deliver a lifestyle intervention in a community setting offering significant potential to address gaps in public health efforts.