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The many wins of walking football | Discover

Age UK Norwich

“As a charity, we do a considerable amount of work in the community for physical health,” says Dan Skipper, CEO of Age UK Norwich. “Pre-pandemic, we had around 45 different types of activity groups, with most of them around physical activity. In the gaps between the second and third lockdown, we re-started all those we could, and we are now beginning to bring our full range back over the next few months.”

Dan and his team had seen Age UK’s insights around ‘deconditioning’ – muscle weakness caused by inactivity that can lead to a reduced sense of balance and an increased risk of falls – before witnessing first-hand the downturn in physical fitness as Age UK Norwich’s groups began to reconvene. “We have a walking history group in Norwich that would walk for an hour without a rest. But we noticed those same individuals were having to rest within 15 minutes of the walk starting, which members of my team reported as a cause for concern.”

As part of their preparations for the full easing of lockdown measures, Age UK Norwich has launched Age Healthy Norwich, a physical and mental health activity campaign, which will run until September, to encourage older people to re-embrace the activities they participated in before the pandemic – as well as trying out some new ones. This also includes physical health recovery through their Health @ Home service offering 1-1 tailored sessions in the client’s home or garden. “We want to get people outside,” explains Dan. “We want them to be in parks and going into their local spaces to improve activity levels and make new social connections.”


Photo: The FA

The campaign’s flagship event was a walking football tournament, with an invite extended to city and county teams. “We had a positive mix of existing teams from the city and new players who wanted to try it out. We’ve now launched two new teams in the city in areas of health inequality and are recruiting new members. One person who signed up last week had not kicked a ball for 18 years, which is what this is all about – re-starting old passions and finding something to help you age healthy.” The benefits are two-fold,” says Dan of the importance of walking football. “We did a similar programme a number of years ago, which was very successful. It’s also helpful for us to be able to diversify our offering in the local area, particularly for men in later life. We know football is the number one sport in the UK and there are big issues for older men recognising mental health issues, but also maintaining physical health in the face of issues like obesity and other issues that come with that.”

Dan used to be a footballer himself, so knows the magnetic appeal of routines around the game – of seeing the same people on a regular basis, the friendships that build up over time, and the important conversations that are had. Age UK Norwich has the assistance of a bonafide local footballing legend too, in Jeremy Goss, who works with the charity two days a week. Jeremy was part of the Norwich City team that played in the UEFA Cup in 1992 and scored a spectacular volley that beat Bayern Munich (the first English club to do so at their home ground).

Dan hopes Jeremy’s profile will help to engage Norwich City fans and the club, which will help to build the profile of the programme and increase the breadth of grassroots football in the area. “When I used to play, there’d be about 20 local divisions – now that number is down to a handful. I think there are a lot of older people who used to live and breathe football, and that local opportunity has dwindled over the last 30 years. I hope this programme will remind people of the benefits of playing. I’d hope the profile of this will open the doors to new opportunities for leagues to grow and stimulate membership. If we can encourage men and women to play and that becomes part of their regular activity regime, that will give them more physical and mental health support. The main point is to encourage people to find the things they enjoy and make them a regular part of their lives.”

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