As part of Merton Council’s plan to become London’s Borough of Sport, voluntary groups have been investigating what is stopping residents from being more active.
The innovative project from NHS South West London and Merton Council offered grants to local groups to run events and ask people about their attitudes to exercise. The events also had another purpose – to get people out of the house, trying new things and having fun.
The laughter they found in getting together in the community is the best medicine for life.”
In total, 15 Merton groups received grants to run activities, which ranged from nature walks to yoga and Zumba.
Sabitri Ray from Merton Ethnic Minority Centre ran a six-week sports programme offering members the chance to try boccia, bowling and curling for the first time and have a go at cycling, with help from a trainer. Sabitri reflected on what she learned from the programme: “Generally people said they don’t get these opportunities as they might be housebound or isolated and lonely – so these activities were good fun and successful for them. They said the laughter they found in getting together in the community is the best medicine for life.”
Sherwood Park Hall community interest company, Mitcham also took part, as director Shernette May explained : “One of the things that came up in discussions with some of the parents is that they find it hard to now go out and exercise and get back to feeling themselves again after having a baby.” In response, the group has introduced Friday exercise sessions for parents, with babies in tow.
Merton Plus, a support group for the LGBTQ+ community, held history walks sharing stories from the borough’s past. According to Mark Connor from the group, feedback revealed that LGBTQ+ parents, in particular, often feel lonely and isolated. He said: “The event gave the gay community a chance to get together. We had a coffee afterwards and are now planning yoga sessions and will be raising awareness on social media.”
What people said
- People talked about the challenges that prevent them from being more active, which included cost of living, transport, availability of parking, confidence, caring responsibilities, language issues and health concerns.
- Some people reported that men have challenges joining activities, as their friendship groups shrink as they get older.
- Others called for free weight management services and welcomed social prescribing support that connects people to community groups.
- For young people, peer pressure to look cool was given as a factor preventing them from taking part in activities.
- Some women said they would like or need safe and single-sex provision as well as low-cost childcare.
Hundreds of local residents took part in the events over the past three months and the full results are being analysed. The comments will be used by Merton Council and the NHS to design activities that really inspire people to get out of the house and reap the benefits of being physically and socially active.
Mark Creelman, NHS South West London Executive Director for Merton said: “By partnering with the voluntary sector, we have reached residents who may not normally give their views through traditional methods. This valuable research will act as a springboard to Merton’s campaign to become London’s Borough of Sport. We hope it will encourage people to improve their health and enjoy getting active by introducing them to sports they would never normally have tried.”