Paths for All recently commented on Scottish Government proposals for a strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and build stronger social connections. We were pleased that the strategy recognised the value of our work to develop and deliver an action plan for the National Walking Strategy and to promote physical activity more generally.

Walkers’ stories

The main point we stressed was that activities such as group walks, community path work and walking football can make a surprisingly important contribution to reducing loneliness. Community and voluntary bodies and partnerships play an important part in supporting this but often the importance of this for social cohesion is underestimated and this can be reflected in a squeeze on resources. In fact, they are often good value for money in terms of return on investment. They therefore offer a good choice for preventative spending.

“I live alone, I have no family left. My husband died 25 years ago, and I have buried all my family. I was in hibernation. I was drinking to forget the emptiness until a couple of years ago. When I walked, I walked alone. Since joining the walking group my life has changed.”

The projects we work with tell a wealth of personal stories that demonstrate the positive impact these local groups can have on social isolation. Never underestimate the value of a chat over a cuppa at the end of a walk!

“The Buggy Walk was the only kind of baby group I could face attending. When I started back Susan remembered me from my first visit and made me feel so welcome. I continued regularly on the walks until going back to work and they were a life line for me as I slowly made my way out of the fog of post-natal depression.”

More walkers’ stories here

Policy and strategy

A range of public policy areas also play a part in making where we live and work friendlier and less isolating – including housing, health, transport, education, planning and economic development. The recognition of this, and corresponding changes in priorities, are perhaps the most important things that could come out of the strategy. The National Walking Strategy will support this – it’s vision is for a Scotland where everyone benefits from walking as part of their everyday journeys, enjoys walking in the outdoors and where places are well designed to encourage walking.

We have recently welcomed the proposed new Scottish Government’s National Outcome “We are healthy and active” as this should give greater emphasis to promoting physical activity. We also welcome that loneliness has been included under the “communities” outcome in the proposed new framework.

The Scottish Health Walk Network

Health Walk groups throughout Scotland help people who have previously been inactive to become active though walking, which is the most accessible form of physical activity for most people. The walks are less than one hour, run by volunteers, based around their community and offer vital social interactions as well as physical activity opportunities for people who are often inactive and can be lonely. We are also developing dementia friendly and cancer friendly walks to help people living with dementia and cancer to get more active in a safe and welcoming environment.

“I was matched with a Volunteer Buddy Walker and certainly it was nice because I am very isolated. Sometimes I’m craving social contact, but it is a bit of a struggle so anything like this helps me. The one to one has been very good. It’s the highlight of my week.”

The Scottish Health Walk Network brings together over 100 projects of all shapes and sizes, all with the common goal of creating a happier healthier Scotland by supporting communities to walk more. As a network we can strengthen our messages, increase our impact and improve our support to organisations delivering walking opportunities in Scotland. Paths for All supports the network, providing regular communications, updates and opportunities. There are now over 500 Health Walks taking place each week across Scotland.

Facts and figures…

The Scottish Health Walk Network brings together more than 100 projects supporting communities to walk more. There are over 500 Health Walks taking place each week across Scotland. https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/pfa/health-walks/scottish-health-walk-network.html

85% of Scotland’s population live less than 2km from the start of a Health Walk. https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/healthwalkfinder

We have trained 10,000 health walk leaders since 2002. https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/pfa/news/10000-volunteer-walk-leaders.html

A Social Return on Investment (SROI) study revealed that for every £1 invested in Health Walks there were £8 of benefits generated for society. https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/sroi

Recreational walking (for at least 30 minutes) is the most common type of physical activity. Participation in recreational walking in Scotland has risen from 57 per cent in 2011 to 67 per cent in 2016. Scottish Household Survey http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/09/9979/345327

There are now more than 100 walking football sessions taking place every week in Scotland. https://www.walkingfootballscotland.org/