Live Life Aberdeenshire has trained its leisure staff to deliver Health Walks from the doorsteps of sports centres in a bid to adapt to Covid-19 restrictions and boost local walking programmes.
Live Life Aberdeenshire, a business unit of Aberdeenshire Council, teamed up with Paths for All to give staff the opportunity to take part in Walk Leader and Strength and Balance training in June last year. The training has given staff the skills and opportunity to lead Health Walks from leisure centres at a time when many facilities had restricted services and some staff faced redeployment.
Claire Wright is the Health & Wellbeing Officer with Live Life Aberdeenshire. Claire saw a real opportunity to capitalise on the recent positive attitudes towards walking and being outdoors during the pandemic. Claire said:
It was always on the radar that we wished to provide health walks from our facilities to encourage those who would not normally attend activities in our facilities to get involved. When we went into lockdown there was a sudden surge in interest in outdoor activities and with this, we saw an opportunity.
Claire Turnbull, Aberdeenshire Health Walks Coordinator with Live Life Aberdeenshire, added:
“The development for us was about upskilling staff, creating new opportunities, developing the existing health walk programme and adapting to the changes brought on by the pandemic. It was planned to help meet the targets and outcomes of Live Life Aberdeenshire’s strategy for physical activity and partnership working with the Aberdeenshire Health & Social Care Partnership.”
New skills for staff
38 leisure staff volunteered to take part and successfully completed the training to become a Health Walk Leader. Those trained ranged from Pool Lifeguards and Fitness Instructors to Catering Assistants and Hall Keepers – which goes to show that Walk Leaders come from all walks of life!
Live Life Aberdeenshire has been working closely with the Aberdeenshire Health & Social Care Partnership to develop ‘Live Life Well Aberdeenshire’ - a referral scheme offering information, activities and programmes to help people improve their lives. The scheme can help those who are:
• living with a long-term condition;
• recovering from illness or injury; and
• those wishing to improve their health and wellbeing.
Anyone looking for support to improve their health and wellbeing can access Live Life Well Aberdeenshire via self-referral or referral by a healthcare professional. Once referred, participants receive one-to-one support and help to start, or continue a journey towards improved health and wellbeing. The scheme signposts participants to a range of physical activities including health walks and low-level exercise classes within local leisure facilities.
More opportunities for Aberdeenshire locals
Health Walks now depart from 9 leisure facilities across Aberdeenshire, in line with Covid-19 guidelines. This new initiative has added 18 new Health Walks to the Aberdeenshire Health Walks programme, which also includes 30 community health walks - promoting everyday walking as a safe and enjoyable way to look after physical and mental wellbeing.
The new Health Walks from facilities include Fit to Walk, a 20 minute walk with a warm up and cool down and finished with some Strength and Balance exercises, Walk Well, a walk lasting up to an hour, and Buggy Walks lasting up to an hour for mums/dads/carers with little ones in buggies/slings.
Health Walks provide an alternative to indoor exercise and the new Walk Leaders use their experience as leisure professionals to support people to become more active in a safe outdoor environment. They are free and accessible to all regardless of age, ability or health status, the walking routes are risk assessed and start and finish from a leisure facility. This new initiative provides welcoming walking opportunities within some communities where provision was poor.
Confidence boost after isolation
The new Walk Leaders are embracing their role in helping people stay active during the pandemic. Josephine is a Leisure Assistant who now leads the Health Walks from Turriff Sport Centre. Turriff was an area in Aberdeenshire with no Health Walk provision prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now weekly Health Walks depart from there and Josephine can see the benefits in people already:
I have seen people’s confidence grow after coming out of isolation in lockdown and being nervous and unsure about starting exercise. The walks are very friendly and sociable. It’s amazing how a simple walk can bring so much support and encouragement to all ages and abilities.
It is clear that this health initiative is benefiting local people – new walkers report feelings of achievement and purpose:
“I was down and unmotivated during lockdown but now that these walks have started I’ve gotten my mojo back and feel so much better for it”
“It was the kick start I needed to get back into exercise and get out the house”
“Sense of purpose and something to get up for”
Welcoming new people to leisure centres
Management is fully behind the introduction of Health Walks too, Stuart – Community Leisure Officer and Manager of Turriff Sports Centre - had this to say about the introduction of Health Walks:
"We viewed the Paths for All training as an opportunity to start delivering sessions which would welcome people to our facilities and would be suitable for anyone to attend. Knowing the impact lockdown had on people’s mental and physical health, the opportunity to join an instructor-led walking session was an attractive one to offer to the community of Turriff and District.”
Research has shown that Health Walks may be a pathway for people into wider physical activity opportunities provided by leisure services and trusts. A survey by a Scottish leisure trust found that 41% of people attending their Health Walks also took part in paid-for sport and activity classes, bringing economic benefits to the leisure trust.
Stuart recognises these potential pathways between Health Walks and other leisure activities offered by facilities:
We hoped that this would lead to participants actively seeking additional activities through ourselves…..some of those attending have now progressed to attending some of our other activities, helping generate income for the facility too.
Community Leisure UK warns that many ALEOs, the arms-length charitable trusts which run leisure services for some councils, are in a perilous financial position with some facing closure. This initiative in Aberdeenshire shows how walking can be a simple yet cost-effective way to breathe life back into leisure services and to take active steps to contribute to the Covid-19 recovery response.
Paths for All supports Health Walks across Scotland by providing training, funding, resources and guidance to Health Walk projects. Interested in establishing Health Walks as part of your leisure service provision? Get in touch with your local Walking for Health Development Officer.
For information about Live Life Well Aberdeenshire click here.