Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking has launched ‘Walking Friends’ (28 November), a unique initiative which helps businesses meet their corporate social responsibility targets whilst boosting the lives of the local communities in which they operate. 

Living Streets trains business’s employees to become walk leaders. These ‘walking friends’ then organise led walks for people aged 65+ in the local community.

There are over 10.8 million people over 65 in the UK, 3.8 million of whom live alone. Research from Age UK found that one million older people say they always, or often, feel lonely, and nearly one in five see their family, friends or neighbours less than weekly.

The Walking Friends initiative has been trialled in Wythall, Birmingham by life and pension firm, Phoenix Group.

Joe Irvin, Chief Executive, Living Streets said:

“Loneliness is one of the biggest social challenges on our age. Walking Friends is a hugely exciting project to see how walking regularly can be an antidote to isolation – helping to reduce the risk of depression and dementia.

“The fantastic outcomes enjoyed by the local community and Phoenix Group staff in Wythall have left us very excited to see what can happen nationwide with a network of Walking Friends.”

Phoenix Group’s corporate responsibility strategy is all about wellbeing, promoting the importance of physical, mental and financial matters.

The Walking Friends concept exceeded this criteria, helping to reduce social isolation in the local community by encouraging new friendships and increasing exercise – all whilst ensuring their own staff had the chance to benefit from being more physically active.

It’s more than a walk. It’s about building the whole community spirit. One of the ladies managed to go around the park without her walking frame – it’s the first time she’s been without her frame for 10 years. To see the impact a short, local walk has on people’s lives is quite humbling. To any other organisation that’s considering doing something similar to Walking Friends, I’d say ‘stop considering and do it’. It’s the best piece of community work that you probably could ever do.

Paul Offer, Phoenix Group walk leader

People aged 65+ were taken on walks once or twice a week by trained walk leaders. Rowena was a member of the community who benefitted from these walks, she said:

“When I do the walk, I always feel so much more cheerful afterwards. There’s always a lot of chat and the walk makes me feel good.

“If people could get the enjoyment that I have from this walking group, I think it would enhance any community.”

For the first-time, the Government recently published its Loneliness Strategy, aimed at helping increase the quality of life for our ageing population. The Strategy recognises the importance of older people staying active and social through walking activities.

Living Streets is hoping that more businesses will be inspired to becoming Walking Friends, as it launches the initiative nationwide with a special video showcasing the success of Wythall Walking Friends.

To watch the Walking Friends video and find out more, visit www.livingstreets.org.uk/walkingfriends

Walking Friends