During the lockdown of spring 2020, when one of the only ways of leaving the house was to go out for a walk, many people discovered the joy of walking for the sake of walking – not to go anywhere in particular, but just to get some fresh air, get out of the house, and go for a walk. We noticed that some of the refugee families we work with here in Bristol had started going to local parks regularly and getting out to enjoy the sunshine with their families. As lockdown eased and we were allowed to walk with someone outside of our family, some of our volunteers started going for a walk with the refugees that they support. It became a time and space to get some exercise, practice English conversation, and build their friendships. Recognising that this was good for all those involved, we decided to create a new program that gave more people this opportunity:
The ’Walk With Me’ programme
Kindly funded by WeSport and Sport England, ‘Walk With Me’ has provided opportunities for more than 60 refugees and asylum seekers to get outside, do some exercise, and meet new people through walking. We have run 2 programmes – one for ladies and their children to meet as a group and walk, and the other for one-to-one walks throughout the city.
Bushra led the group walks twice a week from August to October – once at the Harbourside, and once at Eastville Park. The Harbourside provided an adventurous and beautiful scenic walk, and the park walk encouraged the exploration and enjoyment of nature. Ladies could bring their children, who also enjoyed making new friends. The physical and mental benefits of getting out of the house and walking were promoted and appreciated, as GH said at the end of one of the walks:
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get out of the house after 6 months at home caring for my husband because of his health. It’s been a really nice time.”
The group walks also gave women the opportunity to meet new people from different cultures and chat about their lockdown experiences, sharing their stories and supporting one another. One of the participants - RA - said:
“It’s nice to meet new people. We were feeling lonely, and it’s been nice to find people who were thinking about us.”
15 new walking partnerships were formed, and more than 55 walks completed between the one-to-one partnerships from August to October. These have provided opportunities for people to chat and get to know each other, for new friendships to develop, for English conversation practice, and to enjoy the health benefits of walking. Although this phase of the project officially ended in October, over half of these partnerships have reported that they would like to continue to meet and walk through the winter months, supporting and encouraging each other in a COVID-safe way.
One of the participants – S - commented that her volunteer has now become a good friend. She looks forward to their weekly meetings and sharing her daily life with her, and also learning English from talking to someone in person – not online as many of her lessons have had to be recently. Her volunteer also reported that she now felt she was good friends with S and really enjoys spending time with her.
Another participant who arrived in the UK just weeks before the first lockdown, commented that he has really enjoyed chatting to his volunteer on the walks, learning from his business experience and life experience, learning about culture and making a new friend. The volunteer also commented that he had learnt a lot from the experience, learning new things about Syrian culture and traditions.
With so many of the participants and volunteers saying that they would recommend this project to others to get involved in, we hope to start it up again in Spring 2021. Watch this space!