Unabridged version: Halton Walk Safe, Halton, Merseyside
Halton Walk Safe, Halton, Merseyside
Big Lottery Fund (BIG), programme value £47,924.00
About the project
Halton Walk Safe is a walking scheme specifically focused on older people currently leading semi-sedentary lifestyles. The project provides a series of ‘close to home' walks, using local parks and green spaces. These help to build the confidence and trust of older people at risk of exclusion from their local communities to go outdoors. The walks are marketed for people aged 55 years and over who are socially isolated and lack confidence.
The walking guides are responsible for organising and leading the walks. The project trains volunteers from the local area to act as walking guides and accompany the walkers. This is an opportunity for walkers to participate in gentle exercise, explore new routes and meet their neighbours. Volunteers and other walkers are able to offer help and can provide first aid if needed.
As well as supporting residents to become more physically active, this project also reconnects older people with their local neighbourhoods, enables them to build new friendships and improves their mental wellbeing. In addition, there was a strong need to focus on areas of deprivation and the walks are targeted at people from deprived estates.
The big ideaThe original idea drew on a project that Groundwork Merseyside had developed in Warrington. This project had focused on older people living in sheltered accommodation and explored walking routes around their estate.
Groundwork Merseyside had confidence in this approach and were familiar with the neighbourhoods where they wanted to set up the new project. In addition, they had networks with local agencies such as Age Concern. The organisation used their local knowledge and networks to promote this initiative.
Setting up the project
Halton Walk Safe was established in 2008 following a successful funding bid to Halton Primary Crae Trust (PCT), the local coordinators of Big Lottery Fund (BIG) funding. The funding was managed regionally by the Groundwork North West office who distributed the funds to Halton PCT.
In addition, Groundwork Merseyside work with local people who are active volunteers on the project. Groundwork also worked with young people on the Future Jobs fund who acquired work experience and benefited through their own personal development.
Halton Walk Safe works with health care providers, social housing providers, care homes and older people support services to promote the project, and to recruit appropriate participants. Halton Walk Safe also works with Natural England and Walking for Health, which also sets out training opportunities for Halton volunteers. Natural England accredits the scheme, provides guidance on risk assessment and ensures that people are trained properly.
The main challenges have been identifying walk leaders and evaluating the impact of the project.
The project is aimed at people who are not confident and therefore it is hard to persuade people to move on to become walk leaders. The walk leaders are currently recruiting volunteers for an older age group.
Impact of the project
This is a simple project where people feel safe and comfortable. The group of walkers that use this service are often not vocal or high profile, but many of the participants get a lot from the project.
Based on the evaluations, many participants reported that they had benefited not only from improved physical health but also felt more confident, happy and less isolated. The walks give people the opportunity to make new friends, get out of the house for some fresh air and escape their daily responsibilities for a few hours. One couple felt the walks had given them a “new lease of life”, as the walks and the group camaraderie had helped with depression and coping with illness.
Evaluating the project is difficult. The main focus was increasing activity which can be hard to do for the targeted age group. Groundwork Merseyside did conduct welcome and exit questionnaires which asked people questions such as ‘do you use the car less?'
Groundwork Merseyside has also produced case studies with the walkers.
The primary focus of the evaluation is health and fitness but the walk leader recognises that it is equally important to capture improvements in levels of confidence and mental health issues such as depression. Making friends is also a prominent feature in the feedback. Groundwork developed the evaluation with the support of the local PCT and Groundwork North West.
Top tips to replicate this project in your locality
1. You need time. The project takes time to generate its own momentum, often through word of mouth and recommendations. A core group of people need to sign up and this does take time.
2. Links with the local agencies can help with recruitment.
3. It is important to remain upbeat and friendly, including remembering the participants' names as this makes them feel welcome.
Where to next?
Groundwork is funded to support the project until September 2011. The walkers are keen to carry on and Groundwork will continue to offer minimal financial support to the group, for example, printing costs.
The project currently has two local people who are trained as walk leaders and two that are in the process of training to be walk leaders. All trainees are local people. The main challenge is to persuade more people to train to be walk leaders. Participants enjoy the walks but often do not have the confidence to participate in training to become walk leaders and worry about the responsibility.
15 September 2011