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Local Engagement Coordinator, Amy Foster tells us how we are building trust with communities through our Local Group network.

Last year, we outlined four key aims that would help steer our Local Groups towards being more inclusive. The first of these aims was to 'Build trust with communities and create a coalition of equitable partnerships. 

We will work with ‘affinity groups’ to help us support and engage people in a new way. These are groups which share common interests or identities such as race, gender or disability. By coming together they can lead the agenda, instead of fitting in with an approach that might not prioritise their needs.'

the local group stands in front of a green wall smiling, Amy is with them

We hear from our Local Engagement Coordinator, Amy, who explains how building trust with communities through our Local Groups has been vital to hearing fresh perspectives about the needs of local people and how we can help.

"It’s been exciting to see the initial set up and early stages of brand new Living Streets Affinity Groups. These groups are created by local people to support their communities, with our help. We wanted to hear about the impact they are having, so we held a special focus meeting in Camberwell, South London, in November."

Mohammed Ismail, who has set a Living Streets group in South London for Somali Women, is the founder of Uffo Athletics. 

He hosted our focus meeting at the Somali Integration Development Association (SIDA), where his weekly women’s walking group is based close to Burgess Park in South London.

Mohammed shared some memories from his first visits to Burgess Park. He said: “I was the only Somali kid at my school in Tooting in the 90s, I used to visit Burgess Park just to play football with other Somalis. That’s not the case nowadays, and there may be a million Somalis in London today. However, when I was researching local walks, I didn't feel like there was anyone that looked like me attending them. That’s why I set up the women's wellbeing walks. It's really important to me that our walks are accessible to everyone. That no matter if you are new to the area, worried about a language barrier, or about people understanding your culture, this group will be a safe space where everyone is welcomed into the community.”

"I love walking with my group, when we're finished we all have a coffee and a good chat. It makes me feel good inside, to have people ask me how I am, how my life is. It's nice to know they care, it’s important" - Malika, South London Somali Women's Group

Mohammed's walking group started informally before Lockdown as a chance to come together for a chat after dropping the children at school. Fahma, one of the Walk Leaders said “I used to love walking with other parents after dropping my children at school. But due to Covid restrictions, the schools closed so we couldn't walk together anymore. When I heard Mohammed was looking to set up more formal walks and was on the look out for Walk Leaders, I jumped at the chance!”

Amy joined one of Mohammed's walks in Burgess Park, she noted "Many of the women joining us had young children in buggies that they were pushing. The walk gave us the opportunity to talk about how we can make the walking groups more inclusive for parents of disabled and neuro-diverse children. We noticed how slower speeds on the way to the park could really make a difference to the safety of the local area. Building these relationships and creating space for these conversations allows us to understand what safer walking means to everyone."

One of the local women, Malika, on the walk told Amy "I love walking with my group, when we're finished we all have a coffee and a good chat. It makes me feel good inside, to have people ask me how I am, how my life is. It's nice to know they care, it’s important."

We're working to support and grow our Affinity Group network and would love to see different communities forming their own walking for wellbeing groups (just like Mohammed's) - with our support.

We are grateful to the European Climate Fund for supporting our focus to create more visibility for communities through our work.

About the author

Amy Foster

Croydon Living Streets Group