Active Tameside’s Cul-de-sac Active Streets project provides an opportunity to engage older adults in community exercise that encourages both physical activity and social interaction.
The sessions are the result of the negative impact of Covid-19 on those in the Tameside area already struggling to become, and stay, active.
Highlighting concerns around activity levels
‘There are eight leisure centres in the Tameside area’, explains Peter Makin, Live Active Manager at Active Tameside. ‘Yet for those localities where access to a centre isn’t easy, smaller ventures were set-up, such as health walks with chance for a free tea or coffee. When Covid-19 struck, this active and social lifeline was cut off for many.’
A think tank in Greater Manchester came together and uncovered that, across all boroughs, it was hard to get the message out about available active opportunities in lockdown. ‘Digital content and social media simply aren’t accessible to many of the most vulnerable groups,’ says Peter. ‘Instead, hard copies of leaflets were created and distributed in areas highlighted as those most in need of support.’
Beginning classes with pilot projects
A cul-de-sac with older adults living primarily in adapted bungalows was chosen for the pilot Active Streets session, which took place at the beginning of June. The pilot was 20 minutes long, and comprised ten minutes’ low intensity exercise followed by ten minutes’ Tai Chi. The session hosts also brought leaflets to share with anyone who was out in their garden and seemed curious about what was going on.
‘Typically, it was overcast, windy, and freezing!’ laughs Peter. ‘But residents still came out to join us. In fact, the ladies who joined our pilot session told us they used to attend similar classes at the local community centre, yet they’d stopped running a few years ago. As such, they’d got out of the habit of exercise.’
Continuing sessions to boost activity
After the initial session, the decision was taken to hold another. ‘The ladies who attended the pilot asked if we were running more sessions and we have, keeping to the same day and time to build up some continuity,’ says Peter. ‘It was great that they were keen to come back, and they did, with friends, when we held the second session the following Wednesday.’
‘Unfortunately, the weather was again not on our side!’ Peter continues. ‘However, people began coming out to their front gardens to learn more about what was going on and chat with the team, some saying they were keen to try the session next week. It was fantastic to see the social connections being made, and the word starting to slowly spread about what we are doing.’
The team also delivered a new session in Ashton the following Friday. This saw quite a significant uptake in attendee numbers, with people sharing they were generally happy to be able to try something a little different. ‘We also met a gentleman doing laps of the cul-de-sac, Captain Tom-style!’ smiles Peter. ‘He informed us he has now increased from six to 13 full laps over the lockdown period.’
Building engagement with plans for expansion
‘The Covid-19 restrictions are challenging, as we can – of course – only work with six people in a group, staying apart and within their own front gardens’, explains Peter. ‘As such, we’re keeping the sessions low-key to begin with so we can control the safety of the environment.’
‘We’ve begun by delivering flyers only to residents on the cul-de-sacs in question to help facilitate social distancing,’ continues Peter. ‘However, our longer-term plans are to advertise on social media, sharing images and feedback, to attract a greater number of participants. The hope is to bring the activity into local parks to raise numbers and awareness whilst maintaining social distancing.’
Active Tameside plans to link up with Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council to look at delivering a Quiet Streets project. Residents will be encouraged to regularly close their streets to allow the road to be used for exercise. ‘This is certainly something we will look to build into our community delivery in the future,’ says Peter. ‘We’re highlighting the streets with the demographics most in need of our help, mainly with older adults and/or those living in greater deprivation. Our goal is to bring activity to them.’
The project so far has proved highly rewarding and beneficial for those most in need of activity and engagement. ‘The chance to help people get moving is crucial,’ says Peter. ‘Yet it’s not just been about physical activity, but the mental health benefits too. Having the opportunity to come outside and find someone to chat to, and make social connections, has already proven invaluable to those in the community.’
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic numerous organisations have been conducting research and exploring the implications of the pandemic and lockdown on a number of factors, including physical activity.
Better Health will help capture the imagination of the nation, using this unique moment in time to help kick start our health – to eat better and get moving.