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In this blog, Claire Thompson, ARC EoE theme lead for Prevention and Early Detection in Health and Social Care reflects on setting up a series of walks to engage with our populations in focus, find out more about local issues, and understand their health and social care needs.
Our research team at the University of Hertfordshire came up with the idea because we wanted to do some engagement in person and provide events that would be fun and didn’t necessarily have a fixed agenda. It was a great opportunity to meet people in our communities for a walk and talk outdoors, appreciating the local scenery, country parks and occasional café!
We felt it was a great antidote and respite from all the online meetings and webinars we had to do over 2020 – 2021, because of restrictions during the pandemic. We really wanted to reach out to the populations in focus and find out what their residents enjoy in their local towns and countryside, and what matters to them, whilst hopefully providing a moment of wellbeing with a gentle stroll. We were lucky to get good weather for every walk!
We arranged walks in Essex (Grays), Peterborough, Stevenage, and Waveney. Engagement and attendance from all of these communities was really good. We joined up with local walking groups and providers, and it was lovely to meet residents and sometimes their pets! People joined us from local authorities, charities, and history groups, and we also met the friends, families and children of our colleagues and contacts across the ARC EoE network, with some of our Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) colleagues coming along too.
Key discussion points
The walks helped us to get a sense of what life is really like in each of the populations in focus and the things people tend to talk about locally. For example, the lack of a nearby hospital was clearly a concern for people living in Grays, and people were worried about new housing developments in Stevenage. It also gave those attending a chance to ask the ARC EoE team questions about our research, or research careers and studying in higher education more generally.
We found out more about community-based work to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Cambridgeshire, a topic we have already been exploring with local communities in Watford and surrounding areas. Organising in person events in communities meant that we could find out more about opportunities to engage with nature and boost wellbeing, such as those available at Carlton Marshes Nature Reserve (Waveney).
We have had positive feedback from the walk organisers and attendees. People enjoyed the chance to get out in the sunshine for a while and have a chat.
- A member of the Wellbeing Walks team in Waveney told us:
“It was lovely to meet you and support you with the walks. Any way in which we can help each other in the future will always be welcome.”
The tea, cake and refreshments after the walks were always appreciated and gave people the chance to stay and talk to new people or catch up with colleagues.
- A community forum organiser in Grays commented:
“It was great to meet you and thank you everyone for making the walk so enjoyable."
Through the walks, we have made new contacts in each of the communities, and we are staying in touch. We will be certainly be looking for ways to connect and collaborate on projects in the future.
Our researchers have made connections in person with each of the communities, which is really important for building and maintaining relationships. Being in the communities and spending time with people living there was really insightful. They enjoyed the walks and had interesting conversations with new people, and also now know more about what we do and the support we provide to improve health and social care. We hope that more people in these communities will get in touch with the ARC EoE as a useful resource and share their ideas for projects that can make a real difference and impact for them.
- View some highlights of the Peterborough walk in Ferry Meadows in this short film