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Walking groups impacting health and wellbeing

A recent Gauge NI evaluation has identified the significant impact that walking groups run by Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) have on the people taking part.

Gauge were approached by NHSCT earlier this year to carry out some research into their ‘Walking for Health’ programme. They wanted an independent evaluator to carry out research with the participants in order to identify the health and wellbeing benefits of the project that could be used to identify any areas for improvement and as a tool to promote the service to potential service users.

Walking for Health groups were established by NHSCT in 2001 as way of encouraging people to become more physically active and get out walking. There are now 45 groups across the trust area that meet on a weekly basis and walk for between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours. The walks are run by trained volunteers and many of the people who take part are older or have health conditions.

Fergal O’Donnell, a Gauge NI associate, worked with the walking groups to gather qualitative feedback that would complement quantitative feedback already carried out by NHSCT. Fergal carried out 7 focus groups and spoke to a 125 people in total, often while out walking with the groups themselves!

The impact that the walking groups had on the participants was staggering. Some key themes that emerged were:

·         Companionship

 “It was a great help to me after my husband died.  All I could think was how I would be able to get out of my bed in the morning. My friend introduced me to this group and I haven’t looked back.”

·         Discipline

“For me it’s the discipline of having an organised walk.  Wednesday is walking day so everything else is arranged around the walk.  It provides a focus in the week.”

·         Comfort and reassurance

“For me it was a safety aspect – I never feel that walking on my own but in this group you have that peace of mind.”

·         Empowerment

“For some people, they have never been part of anything – to be part of this walking group gives them a sense of identity and purpose.”

·         Physical health

“On a Saturday morning, I could easily have stayed on in my bed to 11am – now I have something to get up for and it sets me up for the day.”

·         New experiences

“I have been to more amazing places in last few years than I did in all my life.”

Gauge NI NHSCT social impact evaluation













Speaking about the evaluation Fergal commented, “This programme is a fantastic example of the wide reaching impact physical activity has on people. It was clear that not only the participants health was benefiting, but the research demonstrated that these people were happier and felt more connected to their communities as well. The walk leaders are really inspirational people who bring huge benefit to many others through their exemplary leadership and volunteerism.”

Gauge NI is a social enterprise business that carries out evaluations and research to identify the social impact of projects and organisations. If you would like to find out more about our services get in touch on 02890 436400 or

Call us: 028 9043 6400
Gauge NI: 15-17 Grosvenor Road, Belfast, BT12 4GN