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Amy, our Local Engagement Coordinator, visited Stoke-on-Trent to join a Walking Connects walk to find out how they are helping bring people together.

Walking Connects is our Department for Transport funded project exploring how walking can help reduce loneliness and isolation in older adults. We are running a series of walks in communities to get people talking about what connection means to them.   

man walks along the road holding living streets bag and umbrella
amy talks to two older women on the walk

It was a grey Wednesday in January and snow still lay on the ground when I arrived at Hanley Park. Despite the chilly start, over 20 people turned up for a led walk themed around how people can use Community Street Reviews (CSRs) to assess how good local streets are for walking. We met in the park Community Hub where we discussed the route we’d be taking, the pace of the walk, and that there would be a warming cup of hot chocolate to enjoy at the end.

Many of the walk attendees were regulars to the group and had heard about the walks through friends’ recommendations, with numbers growing week-by-week.

One of the participants, John, told me he’d built the walk into his Wednesday trips into town. Others said they extended the walk by having a wander on their own before joining the group. Many explained that chatting in the coffee shop afterwards was something they really looked forward to.

"Walking in a group gives me something to look forward to. My mental health has really improved since joining the walks each week. I look forward to leading walks now I have received the Walk Leader training." - Jacob

Preet, our Walking Connects Coordinator, told me why she’s so proud to be working on the project:

“I’ve enjoyed working on the Walking Connects project, witnessing first-hand how bringing people together through walking has helped reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. The walks have helped several participants with their mental health in a profound way which has been really touching and rewarding. Walking as an activity is extremely helpful as a means of creating a sense of community. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful and varied group of people, who I thoroughly enjoy walking with every week.”

It was a real privilege to join the group for the day and hear their stories. Some highlights included walk participant, Derek describing deck hockey when serving in the Navy alongside then Prince Charles; to learning how GrowthPoint’s allotments and music classes support local adults with their mental health needs. 

2 men laughing in a coffee shop, one is a living streets staff member
maurice holding camera and smiling

Maurice (pictured) from OLGBT Stoke-On-Trent told me about his LGBTQ+ social group for older people and how they use the arts to inspire their members to join them on a walk.

I also learned a lot about the local area, such as the proud legacy of the pots and pits (potteries and mines) and the military in Stoke. As well as how people of all ages are now working together to create a vibrant future for Stoke through Climate Crisis Cafés and canal side walking routes. The privilege of hearing about what makes other people happy is all part of what makes meeting new people so precious.

Spending time with this walking group really emphasised how important projects like Walking Connects are in helping us navigate life’s difficulties, from managing on a limited pension to dealing with stress.

I can’t wait to see how this project continues to grow and evolve. It’s exciting to think how we’ll see new Local Groups forming through our Walking Connects led walks and continuing to find ways to connect. We’re stronger when we walk together.

If you want to find out more about how our Local Groups are working to bring people together through walking, or how you can join or start one in your area, visit our Local Groups page.