Build a walking community
Female, 33 years (YourGround/Nicole Kalms)
Nothing says "healthy", "connected" community quite like tracks, trails and green spaces buzzing with activity.
Walking is the most popular and accessible form of physical activity across most age groups in Australia, but councils can get more people walking for recreation more often (particularly among groups under-represented in organised sports participation).
Known barriers to recreational walking are:
- A lack of accessible and appealing walking spaces
- A lack of convenient or inspiring opportunities to walk with others
Encouraging and supporting organised walks events can work to resolve both issues by providing a sense of safety, or social connection and camaraderie, to those who enjoy walking for exercise: witness the growing popularity of women-run walks and events, which are helping to make women more visible on tracks.
How to run or encourage walking events
Over the years Victoria Walks has partnered with a number of local governments to deliver walking events and programs.
What we’ve learned about walk events
- You need a leader and a contact point: Participants, particularly those arriving alone, want to know someone trustworthy and welcoming is in charge and will definitely show up at the designated time and place - rain, hail or shine
- Tap into existing local communities to help promote, support (and populate) your event early on
- Consider running some women-only events: Many women prefer to exercise with other women
- Run an ‘Expression of interest’ survey to determine the best time / day of week for your target audience
- Consider the purpose and make this clear in your event promotion:
Is the purpose to connect local women to walk regularly together (select a time and place that will be convenient for most)
Or do you want to provide opportunities for people who like more challenging weekend walks (they might be prepared to travel further)
- Don’t make assumptions about who walking events will appeal to (they often attract a wide demographic, which can add to the appeal / a point of different to many sport and recreation activities)
- Advertise the event widely using platforms such as Eventbrite and local Facebook groups or ads
- Give an introduction at the start about the event and consider running a quick ice-breaker
- Make it clear there will be an opportunity to connect socially after the event; this removes pressure on people to walk side-by-side, which isn’t always comfortable on narrow tracks or for people who like to walk at a faster or slower pace
- Ideally provide an undercover gathering space at the start / end of the walk
- Run repeat events if possible (this allows people to get to know one another and find people with interests in common or of similar fitness levels)
- If repeat events aren’t possible consider how you can support participants to stay connected and to continue meeting for recreational walks
Rather than running events local councils may wish to partner with or provide support to community organisations, community groups or non-profits to organise walks.
- Support volunteers / active locals to run events by providing a meeting space and/or help with promotion, or any administration that may be required
- Partner with Victoria Walks to deliver a walk event series or pop-up to connect locals or vitalise local tracks, green spaces or streets
- Partner with a local community organisation, group or business to run walks during This Girl Can week in March (or at any time!)
- Support the establishment of a local ParkRun
- Create digital walk maps of local walk routes / events and encourage participants to share them to encourage other residents to walk the route