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Stories of resilience and nostalgia

We hear from Mohammed Ismail, Coordinator of Living Streets’ South London Somali Men’s Group about their 30km walk across London to celebrate National Walking Month, bringing members of many communities together with a shared purpose.  

On May 27th our group, the South London Somali Men’s Group set off just after 7.30am from Old Kent Road, Southwark after a traditional Somali breakfast beer (liver) pancakes and bur (a type of doughnut) . As a group we walked through parts of Lambeth, the City of Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, Fulham and to Southall, Ealing.  

The mood was good, with most people in deep conversations as well as encouraging each other to keep going at a steady pace. Most of the walk was done via the Grand Union Canal and we saw many people walking and cycling as well as passing barges who waved at us, recognising us as a Living Streets group.  

A group of men dressed in Living Streets tshirts stand under an underpass
a group of men in living streets tshirts walk by a canal path on a sunny day

Despite its narrow paths, the route we’d chosen provided a traffic-free, low car emission alternative haven. It was both peaceful and a change from the usual sounds and scents of the busy urban walking routes and we enjoyed the sounds of birds and flowing water as we navigated the canal. When we got halfway through our 30km walking challenge which had brought us out on this sunny bank holiday, you could visibly see the relief and enthusiasm on the faces of the group. 

At the start of the Canal part of the walk we were joined by Rowan, from Living Streets who interviewed members of the group and captured some photos of us. 

Rowan said “I met the group for a stroll through Little Venice – you could instantly tell that the members share a strong bond. I spoke with Mohammed about the challenges and joys of bringing people together to improve their community, and how walking has a soothing effect on the mind. Everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to their walk in the sunshine." 

Stories of resilience, hobbies, mental health, and autism in the Somali diaspora were all shared within people’s conversations. There was a real sense of nostalgia among the Somali men during the walk in the late 1980s we used to walk very long distances due to lack of public transport because of the war in Somalia.  

Building on the success of the South London Somali Women’s group who lead walks in Southwark and Lambeth, South London Somali Men’s group formed as a Living Streets group this year. We are also affiliated with Uffo Athletic and Leisure Group, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2020 to increase physical activity in the Somali, Muslim and wider communities in London funded by Impact on Urban Health.   

Since September 2023 we have reached over 50 Somali men who regularly attend our twice weekly led walks. The 30km walk along the canal was just one of two events we held to celebrate National Walking Month and to highlight the magic and benefits of walking. The other successful event was an Air Quality workshop to understand the impact of high levels of air pollution on the health of local communities.  

It was part of the Citizen’s Science project, led by Dr Diana Varaden at Imperial College London, to track natural indicators as measures of air quality in the streets we walk every day. The workshop was well attended by local Somali men, where we learned about the sources of pollution, as well as the short-term and long-term effects of air pollution. Mayor of Southwark, Cllr Naima Ali attended and gave a keynote speech to show her support for the event and work we do in the community. 

Mohammed stands by a projector screen that says The Air We Breathe
A group of men smiling walk underneath an underpass wearing green living streets tshirtd

We now have a better understanding of air pollution and know how to measure air quality around Burgess Park, where our group walks. The results will be available later this year, which will help us decide if our current walking routes are deemed as safe to walk in terms of air quality. Moreover, the recommendations from the Citizen’s Science project will be an important outcome for our group and we hope to feel represented when we haven’t before. 

Living Streets supports groups who feel disempowered in their communities and are impacted by poor air quality.

Read about Sheffield Environment Movement, a group who are using citizen science to educate and empower communities to better understand their environment and call for local change. 

A graphic of three people walking

Engaging change makers 

We are grateful for funding from European Climate Foundation to be able to centre the work of communities in our campaigning approach. 

A graphic of a person walking with a backpack

About the author

Aisha Hannibal

Engagement Manager, Living Streets

[email protected]